Friday, 22 March 2013

E-waste: How bad can it be?

Did you know that about 130.000 computers are thrown out every day in the United states?

As technology grows faster, so does the amount of electronic waste produced. Individuals and businesses are required to stay up-to-date on the latest gadgets and the concept of upgrading a phone or a computer is not new to most of the developed world. The average life of a computer is 4.4 years and in the case of mobile phones, it is less than 2 years.

Let’s be optimistic and throw some numbers around...

Let’s imagine that each computer is a standard 15’’ Laptop. This means that it would measure more or less 2.59 x 36.5 x 25 cm, requiring a surface of about 36.5 x 25 = 912.5 cm2 = 0.09125 m2. Not that big, until you consider the volume of Laptops thrown out.  To put it in a visual format, the average football field measures 105 by 68 metres with an area of 7,140 square metres. The US alone produces more than 18 football fields of computer waste and more than 6,645  fields a year.

This figure is optimistic since we are assuming that all computers are laptops. However, we know that is not the case. What about desktops that also come with keyboards and screens and even mouses?

Let’s also remember that e-waste is not limited to computers and mobile phones; there are also printers, scanners, TVs, game consoles, e-readers, tablets, digital cameras, and digital photo frames just to mention a few. Furthermore, every year we encounter new designs that incorporate circuit boards into existing products like smart fridges or ovens. Actually, e-waste is the “fastest growing component of the municipal waste stream world wide” according to Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist and waste management authority.

Even with these large e-waste figures, it is worth noting that we actually produce more waste every day in our homes, so what’s all the fuss about e-waste?

The real problem comes from the fact that every circuit board included in every electronic device contains some composition of the following hazardous substances.

Brominated flame retardants (BFRs)
CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

To get an idea of how harmful these substances are, if we cross-reference this list with the Substance Priority List (SPL) from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry from the US Department of Health and Human Services, we find the top three components included in the previous list. Furthermore, all of the substances or chemicals also contained in these circuit boards, are listed as hazardous substances by the SPL.

So, What are you going to do next time you have to dispose of E-materials?

On future posts, you will learn more about this...

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