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By Alex Mardikian

Electronic waste, or e-waste, along with plastics and other such non- degradable waste is not just filling up our landfills, it is actually changing the earth’s geology.

There is an urgent need to reduce our use of electronic items, reuse to the extent we can, and recycle as much as we can. The present recycling system is very basic in nature and is typically carried out in developing countries where electronic items are stripped down for the metals which are then sold. In the process, the workforce is exposed to metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants, barium, and lithium.

Exposure to these elements causes birth defects, brain damage, and damage of the metabolic organs. It even affects the body’s skeletal system.

Already, landfills across America hold nearly 80 million computers.  These account for around 40% of all the lead that is present in US landfills. This is because every computer contains lead and lead-coated parts. Lead is known for its toxicity and over time this element leaches into the soil and water systems, ultimately reaching our homes through food and water.

The toxic elements found in computers are known as bioaccumulative toxins. They are a risk regardless of whether you incinerate the computer, dump it in landfills, or melt it for valuable metals.

Each year, around 40 million tons of e-waste is generated across the world. Nearly 7 million tons of this is recycled in the developing countries. Countries of the EU generate almost 9 million tons of this waste in the form of computers, mobile phones, televisions, printers, and such items.

Recycling in the developing nations is a very decentralized activity. No strict health norms are present and there are no best practices as such to follow. Nigeria, India, China, Vietnam, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are among the largest recyclers of electronic waste. For example, in India 70% of the e-waste that is recycled is from other countries.

Unregulated recycling in these countries results in health risks because of primary and secondary exposure to poisonous fumes from metals such as lead. The incomplete burning of e-waste creates fine particulate matter which when inhaled, leads to lung diseases.

The Basel convention defines the transboundary movement of hazardous waste and its disposal between developed and developing nations. Significantly, America is not a signatory to the Basel convention.

In Hawaii, recycling centers for e-waste accept TVs, computers, laptops, monitors, printers/fax machines/multi-function printers, VCRs, CD/DVD players, stereo receivers/amplifiers (no speakers), UPS systems, digital cameras, cellular, and landline telephones.

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