Greener Pastures: Recycle e-waste responsibly
Life these days is fast, but technology is even faster. A day after buying Apple TV for my husband for Christmas, it needed an update. In two weeks, I’m sure the whole system will be obsolete.Apple’s business model is genius. All of their products are integrated; one assists the other so harmoniously it’s impossible for digiphiles to have just one. “Say hello to the most amazing iPhone yet,” Apple writes in one advertisement. “Yet” is the key word, because once you’re hooked, Apple improves on your favorite product. So you upgrade … and upgrade … and upgrade. And then, Apple invents something totally new and so cool that you buy that product, too. Besides being innovative and profitable, the nature of Apple’s business model also produces a lot of electronic waste. E-waste is the trash you generate that’s made up of obsolete, broken, or surplus electronic devices. Some electronics are replaced quicker than others, adding heavily to the e-waste pile, such as cell phones, which are replaced on average every 22 months, according to an interesting infographic from WellHome, a national whole home energy-efficiency retrofitting company. As a whole, in 2009, 2.37 million short tons of electronic products were at the end of their life, ready to be discarded, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent study of electronics waste management. Only 25 percent of the 2.37 million short tons of e-waste were picked up for recycling. The rest was dumped in our landfills or incinerated. The problem with e-waste is that electronics are composed of toxic chemicals and when dumped in landfills or incinerated, people are then exposed to those toxic chemicals. When dumped in landfills, for example, toxic chemicals in electronics can leach into the land and into the water table, impacting nearby communities and the environment. When incinerated, heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury are released into the air and ashes. Mercury, which attacks the central nervous system and endocrine system, is a particularly persistent chemical and can bio-accumulate in the food chain, particularly in fish, the major cause of exposure to the general public. If the products contain PVC plastic (an endocrine disrupter), highly toxic dioxins (a carcinogen) and furans are also released into atmosphere during incineration.The other problem, according to Greenpeace, is e-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to lesser developed countries either to be disposed of or recycled by hand in scrap yards, often by children. Those young workers are exposed to all those toxins. Greenpeace says that it is estimated that 50-80 percent of the waste collected for recycling is exported to countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, India and China. These countries don’t have the same controlled conditions as developed countries do at their purpose-built recycling plants.So what do we do? Give up our love of faster and faster technology? Probably not going to happen. But there are simple things consumers can do. Here are a few ideas:Buy better electronicsSpend the extra cash and buy electronics that will last longer. Ask yourself before buying or upgrading: “Do I really need this? Or does my current iPhone do just what I need it to do?” Donate used electronicsYou can donate old, usable electronics to charities. Check out Recycling for Charities (www.recyclingforcharities.com) to find organizations that accept used electronics. Locally, the Salvation Army’s Thrifty Store in Edwards accepts electronics.Recycle responsiblyNot all e-waste recyclers ship electronic overseas. Consumers can recycle responsibly by choosing a recycler that is e-Steward approved by the Basel Action Network, an organization focused on confronting the global environmental injustice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade (toxic wastes, products and technologies) and its devastating impacts. On Saturday the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability will host an e-waste collection event in front of High Country Computers located in the Riverwalk at Edwards. Metech Recycling, a founding member of BAN’s e-Stewards program, will do the pick-up and bring back the e-waste to its Denver facility. This is a safe, reliable company that you can trust with your e-waste.Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She owns Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company, and is actively involved in the EagleVail Community Garden, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Slow Food Vail Valley. Contact her at email@example.com.
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