Much of the current e-waste generated in rich, developed countries ends up in developing countries where it often poisons people and the environment. Less affluent people and areas of the world get stepped on. While there is an international treaty known as the Basel Convention to prevent this, the United States has not ratified that agreement and has almost no policies or laws in place to prevent e-waste from being routinely shipped off-shore. Even in Europe where such exports are banned, there is far too much illegal traffic in e-waste with enforcement lacking.
In the United States, the laws that do exist are often poorly enforced and have allowed dangerous conditions in prisons, abandoned warehouses, and in the operations of irresponsible recyclers where workers are endangered by toxic dust exposure.
The Boomerang Effect
Imagine tossing your broken iPad in the garbage. It’s broken, obsolete and you just want it gone. But, out of sight does not mean out of mind – or that it’s gone for good. Irresponsible disposal will come back to haunt you.
In one scenario, your iPad is delivered to the local landfill. It might end up in a mountain of increasingly acidic garbage. Over time it corrodes, cracks, and aided by the acidic environment leeches its toxic heavy metals into the landfill. When the landfill lining breaches, those metals find their way into our ground or surface water we drink. Or maybe your iPad is incinerated and all those toxins such as brominated flame retardants become cancer causing dioxins or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, made airborne, settling wherever the wind takes them ultimately ending up in the ecosystem and eventually on your plate or in your glass.
What goes around comes around. It all comes right back to us.
Or, let’s say the e-waste gets shipped away to a place you’ve never heard of in China or Africa. It’s their problem now, right?
Not really. The boomerang effect will take this problem right back to your doorstep. How? Much of our food supply comes from China. And much of it from the very same regions (Guangdong Province) where the e-waste is “farmed.”
Also, scientists have now tracked air pollution from China across the globe. Pollutants find their way via long-range transport in the upper atmosphere, moving pollutants, like mercury, across the oceans where they fall out in other continents. Ultimately, the cycle brings toxics from your iPad right back to your home.
Unless we recycle responsibly, we all pay the price. The environment pays, our loved ones pay, people you’ve never met pay, future generations pay, and you pay. Most often with your health and a degraded environment. Let’s not be indebted for a cost we can avoid. Let’s treat ourselves, our children, and the environment, with respect and dispose of our e-waste the right way.