It’s the holiday season. Children and adults are making lists of the items they absolutely must have to survive the cruel word of keeping up with the Joneses. At the top of many lists is some kind of new electronic device. Our love affair with electronics has resulted in the accrual of more devices than we have need for, so many of us just toss our out-of-date equipment with never another thought. The fate of these once-beloved electronics, now considered electronic waste, or e-waste, is cause for rising concern.
According to the most recent estimates by the EPA, sales of new electronics reached 438 million in 2009, up from about half that in 1997. This upsurge in electronic consumption has resulted a sharp increase in the number of discarded devices. Globally, e-waste production is growing at two to three times the rate of other municipal waste.
Under Oregon law, it is illegal to dispose of covered electronic devices (CEDs) such as computers, monitors and televisions, but what about all the other electronics we no longer want? Devices that are not considered CEDs can legally be dumped in landfills, but concerns are growing about the hazards of doing so. Electronic devices contain an unbelievably high number of toxins including arsenic, lead, and mercury. When these devices are left in a landfill, toxins can leech out into the air and ground, raising environmental and health concerns.
Another troubling development has been the practice of recycling companies exporting 50 to 80 percent of their wares to countries such as India and China where little to no care is taken to protect people and the environment from the detrimental effects of e-waste. These items are shipped overseas under the premise of re-use when in reality many are stripped of precious metals including copper and gold and then discarded; in some cases accumulating in streets and backyards. This has led to widespread air and water pollution and chemical accumulation in the tissues of the people in these communities.
There are a number of proposed solutions to the problem of e-waste, including a push for more responsible production practices and a ban on e-waste exports. A relatively simple solution is to recycle old electronic items, but it can be difficult to locate an organization that will accept them, and often there is a cost is associated with the service. Locating a responsible recycling organization can help ensure that old electronics don’t continue to contribute to this growing problem. In Corvallis, several organizations provide free recycling of electronic devices, including Republic Services of Corvallis, Corvallis Goodwill, and the Habitat for Humanity Restore. Please contact these organizations before disposing of your unwanted electronics.
By Kristen Daly