E-Waste, also called electronic waste, is any discarded electronic/electrical devices. The includes, but is not limited to, computer components, cell phones, batteries, televisions, fax machines, printers and photocopiers. Unlike most other waste, these items are often discarded because the technology is obsolete and not because it is broken. E-Waste is often sent to developing countries for processing.
Why is E-Waste such a problem?
The first problem with E-Waste is that there is so much of it due to the advances in technology. More worryingly is that a lot of E-Waste contains hazardous materials like mercury, lead, sulfur and cadmium. This means that if the E-Waste is not properly processed these materials may leech into the environment and cause health problems. Sometimes the waste may be improperly processed on purpose, such as burning computer cables and components to obtain the sort after copper, which also causes toxic substances to be released into the environment. Improper processing can also cause health problems for the workers at these plants.
The following video shows E-Waste being incorrectly processed in Ghana:
Did you know?
It is estimated that over 80% of E-Waste is simply thrown in the trash even though it is possible to safely recycle most of the components. Of the 20% that is sent to be recycled much of it is sent to developing countries for processing.
The Basel Convention is a UN treaty designed to prevent hazardous waste being shipped to developing countries. However, the United States has not ratified the agreement. Some countries avoid breaking the treaty by listing their E-Waste as “second hand goods” and not waste.