The Dirty Little Secret of the Electronic Era
7/10/2014 9:06:00 AM
In 2012 the world purchased 238.5 million televisions, 444.4 million computers and tablets and a staggering 1.75 billion cellphones. Back in 2008, Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resource Defense Council, estimated that in the USA alone we throw out 48 million computers and 100 million cellphones every year. In fact, according to Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, the average US cellphone has a 22 month lifecycle. All these discarded electronics add up to 5-7million tons of ewaste every year from the USA alone. The volume of this electronic waste is expected to increase by 33% by 2020. What happens to all this obsolete technology? The more conscientious individuals may try to recycle their useless electronics instead of letting them stew in a landfill. However, this task is easier said than done because used electronics are considered hazardous waste and contain toxic components such as lead, mercury, cadmium, phosphors, arsenic, flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride. These products are known carcinogenic substances that can cause liver and kidney damage, mutations and stillbirths and a plethora of other devastating effects to our bodies when not handled and recycled properly. The inadequate dismantling and disposal of e-waste release these toxic substances into the soil and the air, infecting domestic and wild animals alike while poisoning our crops and drinking water. And the bewildering fact is that less than 20% of used electronics are recycled. Another troubling fact is that the lethal byproducts of our electronic consumption, when one actually tries to properly recycle them, are oftentimes just dumped elsewhere. A disturbing reportage done by Scott Pelley for 60 minutes on CBS News back in 2009 provides video footage of the electronic wasteland created in Guiyu China by our failed recycling attempts. We are faced with an unfortunate reality; 80% of our “recycled electronics” actually end up exported to some roadside ditch somewhere far away.
So how does one avoid contributing to the creation of an electronic Chernobyl? One solution is to use a Green Box to recycle our electronic waste. Green Box is an unattended kiosk where you can recycle consumer electronics. The first step is finding the Green Box closest to you; the Green Box network is growing, with kiosks opening up all Southern California. The key factor in the recycling process is that Green Box only partners with e-waste recyclers who meet R2 or e-Stewards qualifications. The R2 standard is a premier global, environmental, worker health and safety standard for the electronics refurbishing and recycling industry. ISO 14001 certifies that a company or organization has received energy audit training and can identify and control their environmental impact. E-Stewards are a project of the Basel Action Network aka BAN, which was named after the 1997 Basel Convention in which the United Nations ratified a treaty restricting the trade of hazardous wastes, effectively stopping the dumping of lethal waste on developing countries. Interestingly enough, the USA is the only developed country that has not ratified the Basel Convention, making certifications of responsible recycling such as e-steward all the more respected. Thus e-Stewards Certification is used to identify recyclers that adhere to the highest standard of environmental responsibility and worker protection in the electronic recycling, refurbishing and processing industry. The Green Box is a great concept, especially for those who would like to rerecycle their old electronics. A Green Box can process old televisions, computer monitors, printers, really old telephones etc. Innovating ideas, such as the Green Box provide us with brilliant environmental and business solutions. But they require a clientele who is not turning a blind eye to the dangers of e-waste. It is our responsibility as electronic consumers to ensure our discarded gadgets do not end up poisoning somebody else’s backyard.
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