Harmful Effects Caused by Improper Computer & Electronic Waste Recycling
Electronic waste affects nearly every system in the human body because the materials that make up e-waste contain a plethora of toxic components, including mercury, lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants, barium, and lithium. Even the plastic casings of electronic products contain polyvinyl chloride. The health effects of these toxins on humans include birth defects and damage to the brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system. They will also significantly affect the human body’s nervous and reproductive systems.
Electronic waste currently constitutes 2-3% of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, yet it’s responsible for almost 70% of our toxic waste. Carnegie Mellon University has predicted that there are already 70 million computers in our landfills. The average computer screen has at least five to eight pounds of lead, representing 40% of all the lead in U.S. landfills.
All these chemicals are persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) that create environmental and health risks when computers are incinerated, buried in landfills, or melted down. When computer monitors and other electronics are burned, they release cancer-producing dioxins into the air that we all breathe. If electronics are thrown in landfills, these toxins may leach into groundwater, affecting local aquifers and entering the food chain. Although these problems are more prevalent right now in the developing countries that accept our shipments of e-waste for processing, toxic waste knows no borders. The more electronics we discard, the greater the environmental and health dangers for everyone.
Electronics have proliferated in recent decades because they help us work more efficiently and live more conveniently. That in itself shouldn’t be a problem. Indeed, daily efficiency and convenience are benefits of living in an industrialized society. The danger lies in how quickly we discard these items, whether because they’ve stopped working or because we just want something even more efficient and convenient. Throwing them away without regard to what happens to their toxic components is currently impacting the health of our neighbors, and if we don’t change course soon, this careless disregard for harmful consequences will impact the health of our children and grandchildren as well.