When you think of widespread illegal activity, your first thought probably doesn’t move to old, broken electronics—also known as e-waste. You might not know that in the United States and globally, there are a host of laws regulating the disposal and recycling of e-waste, and that these laws continue to become stricter each year, in order to keep our environment and the general public safe and healthy.
You also might not know that most of these laws are ignored.
Most E-Waste is Disposed of Illegally
Earlier this year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report that estimated between 60 and 90% of all e-waste produced globally in 2014 was disposed of illegally. Those are scary numbers, when you consider that we collectively produced 41.8 million tons of e-waste last year…and we’re only going to produce more as time goes on.
So what’s the big deal? Where is that e-waste going, and why isn’t it recycled?
Responsible Recycling Costs Money…So Why Do It?
The main reason e-waste ends up in landfills instead of recycling facilities is simple: money. Recycling old IT equipment is more expensive than sending it off somewhere and forgetting it exists. So what’s the problem with that attitude? Here are a few problems dumped e-waste can cause:
Threats to human and environmental health from toxins in the air, water, and soil
Loss of useable resources, resulting in the need to harvest raw materials.
Shipping That Waste
So where does that e-waste go? Millions of tons is shipped to developing countries, flying under the radar at ports and often ending up in countries in Asia or Africa, including China, India, Ghana, and Nigeria. From there, it ends up in a landfill—or worse.
What Happens to the Waste?
Upon the e-waste’s arrival to its final destination, it typically has one of two fates: it will be tossed into a landfill, allowing heavy metals and other toxins to leach into the ground, water, and air, or it will be disassembled by hand in unsafe ways.
Responsible recyclers have many safety precautions in place to protect workers. But unregulated dis-assembly happens all the time in many different countries, posing threats to human safety.
If you’re a consumer with just a few items to recycle, don’t throw them in the trash or the recycling bin. Take them to a retailer like Best Buy who offers take-back programs to ensure e-waste is recycled responsibly.
If you are part of an organization or company that has a lot of e-waste to get rid of, you’re going to have to spend a little money and hire a responsible recycler who will process your e-waste in a compliant way. Spending the money to responsibly recycle your old electronics is a lot cheaper than facing costly fines down the road and enduring scandal. E-waste recycling is just another cost of doing business.
If you’re looking for a responsible recycler, always choose an R2 or eStewards certified company, as you will get the peace of mind of knowing that the company handling your e-waste is held to strict standards for quality.
Susannah Bruck is a freelance blogger, editor, and ghostwriter. She has been putting her skills to use for clients since 2010, and enjoys working on formats ranging from blog posts to short stories and plays. You can find her at World Adventures