Electronics make the world go ‘round. Could we live without them? At this point, probably not. Most of us would feel completely disconnected from our lives if we were separated from our smartphones and even the least tech-savvy amongst us needs a computer to manage various aspects of day-to-day living. With this heightened level of reliance on electronics, comes more electronic waste, and a need for ethical e waste disposal.
The problem is, modern electronics don’t last forever. Eventually, they become obsolete, break down, or just die completely, meaning they have to be disposed of. The trouble is, disposing of them is not as easy as just throwing them away.
Electronic components like smartphones, music players, PDAs, flat-screen televisions, projection TVs, computers, monitors, mice, keyboards, and more all contain several chemicals that are incredibly harmful to the environment – so dangerous, in fact, that they can pose a severe risk to people and to the environment if they are not disposed of with great care.
Here are some of the hazardous chemicals contained in electronics and why they are such a concern:
- Brominated flame retardants do not break down easily and tend to build up over time. Some of the known issues that can be caused by exposure include impaired learning and memory, behavioral issues in children (if exposed in the womb), and endocrinological impairment, such as thyroid dysfunction and problems with estrogen systems.
- Lead exposure can be deadly. At the very least, it can cause developmental delay, seizures, hearing loss, and a range of learning disabilities in children. In adults, it can cause damage to the central nervous system as well as the circulatory and reproductive systems. Lead can be found in high concentrations in cathode-ray televisions and monitors (CRTs), printers, old videotape machines, smoke alarms, and batteries. While most electronics only contain small amounts of lead, when huge volumes of them are discarded improperly, this can build up in the environment and cause these types of problems.
- Cadmium is used in rechargeable batteries, including the kinds of batteries that are found in laptop computers and smartphones as well as solar cells. Exposure to cadmium is known to cause cancer but can also impair the cardiovascular system, kidneys, the stomach and digestive tract, your body’s nerve systems, respiratory, and reproductive systems. Disposing of cadmium improperly, for instance through incineration, can multiply the exposure and cause widespread health issues.
- Mercury is used in flat-screen displays like televisions and computer monitors. Particularly harmful to children, exposure can cause brain damage as well as central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction.
- Hexavalent chromium is used in the process of electroplating and is a known carcinogen. If it leaches into a water source, even a small amount of exposure can cause lung cancer and serious skin conditions.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is in a class of chemicals called halogenated compounds. It is used as a coating for computer wires and cables to give them extra protection against flammability. Throwing your old components away will put PVC into the landfill, which will then spread into the surrounding soil, which then has the potential to enter our water table as well as poison the soil against any future use.
The presence of these six chemicals in our everyday electronics highlights the need to dispose of these items safely and responsibly. Choosing a recycling partner who is focused on ethical disposal methods will not only support your green initiative, it will help to protect the planet for future generations.
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