Why E-Waste Sucks


Image Credit - Iowa_spirit_walker on Flickr

We’ve written about e-waste before on the blog, pointing to the fact that it needs special care and handling, and that it shouldn’t just be tossed in the landfill. What we haven’t touched on, and which most people never really get into, is why it’s all so awful. But knowledge is power, right?

The hassle of shipping your old electronics off to a specific recycler is a lot less irritating when you’re making an informed decision to do so based on what you know it would do should it wind up in the landfill. What we’re trying to avoid by recycling e-waste is something called leachate, which forms when rainwater becomes contaminated as it seeps through the landfill. In older or poorly managed landfills, or simply if a leachate management system has become compromised, the leachate can seep right through into groundwater. So what does it all mean?

Buildup of mercury in fish

Image from Wikipedia

Say you didn’t separate your old batteries when you were throwing out the trash – what would happen? The mercury and cadmium in batteries would eventually be released into the landfill leachate. While the levels of either heavy metal making it back into the environment would have to be higher to have a directly adverse effect on human health, concern lies in the leachate mingling with ground water and infiltrating marine ecosystems, where organisms are considerably more vulnerable to low levels of toxicity in their environments. There are already concerns about the levels of mercury in the fish we eat stemming from other environmental stressors, so the question becomes how much more contaminant can we introduce before it’s a “big” problem.

Couldn’t be troubled to take your old CRT computer monitor to a recycling centre? Old monitors have been found to contain as much as 8 lbs. of lead in their cathode ray tubes. While we’ll re-emphasize that the levels leaching out of one landfill at a single given time would not generally have a direct effect on human health, it’s worth looking at what lead can do to the human body and considering how much of it we want floating around in our environment. Some consequences of long-term or high-level lead exposure:

  • Kidney failure
  • Impaired cognitive development in children
  • Miscarriage
  • Reduced fertility in males
  • Anemia

…and various other nervous system or neurological interferences. The build-up of lead in our environment, in the ecosystems from which we source our food and water, should be something we take action to minimize…don’t you think? Responsible recycling of lead-heavy e-waste is one way to do so.

This is by no means an in depth or involved scientific breakdown of the problems associated with e-waste disposal, but the aim was to simply provide you, our readers, with a little more information. Perhaps it makes more sense, now, why we keep preaching about proper recycling for old electronics.

Keep an eye out for free e-waste recycling events (1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise partners participate in many of these across North America and Australia), or look into a local facility that accepts this type of recycling. Or, if you’re just getting rid of everything in your office and can’t take time to sort, feel free to call us to sort it for you. Whatever you do, please do it responsibly.

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