Electronic Waste Mountains
Electronic waste is a growing problem. Technology is advancing at a fast pace but sometimes it is mere fashion that makes many people replace electronic equipment such as computers, mobile telephones, games consoles and other playthings. The discarded electronic items are usually in perfect working order. Sad, discarded, electronic articles are filling landfill sites in their countries of origin and in some surprising places across the world. Electronic waste is toxic and does not biodegrade.
In the United States, e waste is a huge problem. According to the Electronics Take Back Coalition, Americans replace over 400 million electrical gadgets every year. In theUnited Kingdom, the 60 million population discards over a million tonnes of electronic waste each year. E waste is a constantly mounting problem in all countries.
Despite European Union legislation, a BBC TV Panorama investigation report in May 2011 tracked e waste fromBritaintoGhanaandNigeria. British e waste, exported illegally, is dumped in West African countries, where it is poisoning land and rivers. Children scavenge these dumps, recovering metals from the tons of electrical items to make a bare living risking their health for pennies in doing so.
Legally, broken Electrical items must be responsibly recycled withinUnited Kingdom. Exporting used electronic items for resale is legal, but they must be tested to ensure that they are in working order before they can legally leave the country. Courts can impose a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and two years in prison. No English court has imposed a fine over 12,000 pounds or sent anyone to prison. The UK Environment Agency estimates that one eighth of containers leaving theUnited Kingdom, contain illegal non-working electrical items.
In theUnited States, the problem is even more acute.Americaexports 86% of its e waste mountain to developing countries and recycles only a tiny 14%.America’s e waste goes toChina, Asia,GhanaandNigeria. Planned obsolescence is part of the American Dream and part of industrial design.
TheUKhas a law but does not impose the harshest punishments for breaching that law. An illegal container of broken computers and television sets is worth around 7,000 pounds to those companies, illegally exporting them. How can a 12,000-pound fine and no prison sentence reflect the gravity of the crime or the harm that poisons like lead, cadmium and other poisons do in poor African nations?
The US Environmental Protection Agency advises that people should handle e-waste carefully. However, the American waste industry believes the dangers are over-stated. How can people believe that lead, cadmium, and other toxic substances are not dangerous, but then it might be a very different story if American e waste were poisoning American land and rivers or American children.
You might think that there is little that ordinary people can do to help with this problem, but consumers can do much to help. Recycling electrical goods responsibly is one way to ensure that your old television or computer does not finish its life on a dump in a far away land. Think carefully before you buy your item, whether you really need that new item, perhaps you could upgrade the old one, buying from companies that produce in a better way or take your item back and recycle responsibly within your own country, are all ways that consumers can buy responsibly. Buying items made by companies trying to produce goods in a greener way, encourages those companies to find better ways to make goods. Consumer pressure and knowledge can make a difference.