A. Computer monitors
D. Computer mice
E. All of the above
Congratulations to this contest's winner, Lesley, who will receive a reusable bag filled with cool eco-goodies!
According to the U.S. EPA, discarded electronics accounted for 2.5 million tons of landfill waste in 2007. Electronics, which can contain toxins like lead and mercury, need to be carefully recycled to ensure that contaminants aren’t released into the air or into groundwater.
Commonly referred to as e-waste, the dumping of old electronics into landfills can wreak havoc on ecosystems and human health, due to the metals and chemicals used to make some of our most valued tools and toys. According to the EPA, these substances can include:
Lead – used in TV glass and personal computer (PC) cathode ray tubes (CRTs). The EPA reports that older CRTs contain an average of four pounds of lead, while newer CRTs contain closer to two pounds.
Mercury – small amounts of mercury can be found in the bulbs that light flat panel computer monitors and laptop screens.
Brominated flame retardants – while this material has been phased out as new products have come online, this substance can be found in the plastic casings on old wires and cables.
Cadmium – older models of rechargeable batteries for laptops and other portable electronic devices may contain cadmium, while newer batteries do not.
These substances have been known to produce a range of substantial health effects, including impaired endocrine and nervous systems, kidney disease, and even cancer.
Reusing and Recycling E-Waste
According to EPA estimates, a mere 18 percent of e-waste was recycled in 2007. A similar study by Consumer Reports’Electronic Reuse & Recycling Center found that nearly two in 10 consumers that disposed of a computer monitor in 2007 threw it in the garbage. Fourteen percent of those that disposed of a laptop computer threw it into the trash.
Reusing and recycling e-waste can keep harmful substances out of landfills and give electronics a longer shelf life, through reprocessing the materials for a new generation of electronics or by donating it to those who need it.
Reusing or recycling your electronics can also reduce energy use and emissions produced from mining and manufacturing new items—the EPA estimated that if we had recycled 100 million old cell phones in 2006, we could have saved enough energy to power 194,000 U.S. homes for a year.
In November, 2008, 60 Minutes aired a report in which they tracked illegally shipped e-waste from the United States to China, where retired electronics are broken down by low-income workers, often times by burning toxic metals and plastics.
According to the report, scientists found that the town profiled in the investigation had the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world, and that pregnancies were six times more likely to end in miscarriage. Seven out of 10 kids were found with too much lead in their blood.
While the 60 Minutes crew was able to single out the source of this particular illegal trade, it learned that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) had set up a sting in which 42 other American companies were willing to illegally export this waste to foreign countries.
So how can you ensure that your electronics will be properly recycled?
From our offices to our homes, we can all do our part to reduce e-waste and ensure its proper disposal. For more information, take a look at the resources listed below. And, if you’re interested in becoming an environmental steward through your workplace, check out EarthShare’s workplace giving campaigns.
eCycling, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
What To Do About E-Waste, National Resources Defense Council
E-Waste Statistics, Greener Choices, Consumer Reports
The eStewards Initiative, the Basel Action Network
“The World Confronts Its E-Waste Nightmare,” OneEarth Magazine, National Resources Defense Council. Fall 2006.
“Following the Trail of Toxic E-Waste,” 60 Minutes, CBS News. November 2008.
“E-Waste: Dark Side of the Digital Age,” Wired Magazine. January 2003.
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