Every year, approximately 40 million metric tons of electronic waste (aka “e-waste”) consisting of discarded televisions, phones, computers, and other electronic hardware are produced globally. Although e-waste only accounts for 2% of the trash in landfills, it makes up almost 70% of the toxic heavy metals in these landfills.
Poorly regulated informal recycling markets in the Philippines, Pakistan, China, India, and Vietnam handle between 50-80% of this e-waste by shredding and burning the discarded electronic items. These improper disposal methods of e-waste not only negatively affect the health of humans, but are also detrimental to the health of the environment.
Combustion of e-waste generates a harmful amount of pollution that contaminate the air. This pollution has been linked to causing asthma and other respiratory problems among the workers who burn the waste and the people who live in communities near the burning sites. The air pollution can also create irreversible, harmful effects in ecosystems, negatively affecting the chemistry of the soil and water.
Improper disposal of electronic hardware that contain heavy metals like lithium, mercury, and lead (which are found in cell phones and computer batteries) release harmful chemicals through the soil and into groundwater streams. When these toxins enter the water system, the animals and people who drink this contaminated water experience harmful effects, such as lead poisoning.
Samples taken from water sources nearby some of the under-regulated informal markets that shred and burn e-waste in developing countries have shown especially dangerous levels of chemicals. For example, water samples taken in Mandoli, India have shown lead levels that were 11 times the Indian government exposure limit. Additionally, these samples showed mercury levels that were nearly 710 times the Indian government exposure limit.
However, when e-waste is recycled and properly disposed of, then the aforementioned negative effects on the health of the environment and people can be mitigated.
Check out this infographic for more information:
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