electronicwaste.jpg We all have an abundance of technology around us every day. Whether it’s our laptop, smartphone or tablet, electronics are becoming integrated into our daily lives. Think of how many different devices you use to accomplish tasks at work or home. Could you imagine yourself without these gadgets today? The fact of the matter is that technology eventually becomes stale. As much as you love your smartphone, it’s bound to become outdated within the next couple of years. The same goes for your laptop, tablet and other technology you rely on for work and play. When it comes time to say good-bye to your used devices, how do you part ways? Do you stash your old phone in a drawer where it’s out of sight and out of mind? Do you give away your laptop when you buy a new one? Should you just toss your tablet in the trash? Electronics are becoming more complex, and discarding them is turning into a challenge. As manufacturers incorporate the latest plastics and metals into these pieces, it’s leaving people scratching their heads when it comes time to throw them away.

The Real Challenge of ‘E-Waste’

Electronic waste, also known as “e-waste,” is becoming a significant concern in terms of pollution. A study published in the Environmental Research Letters journal in 2011 looked at how “e-waste” in China is impacting the health of locals. Researchers found that the pollution from irresponsible “e-waste” dismantling facilities caused increased rates of IL-8 and ROS levels – indicators of an inflammatory response and oxidative stress. “Both inflammatory response and oxidative stress may lead to DNA damage, which could induce oncogenesis, or even cancer,” said Fangxing Yang, co-author of the study. “Of course, inflammatory response and oxidative stress are also associated with other diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases.” Every year, up to 50 million tons of electronic waste is generated around the world, and a large amount of it is exported to China. Electronic waste typically consists of unwanted computers, televisions, printers and mobile phones. “From these results it is clear that the ‘open’ dismantlement of e-waste must be forbidden with more primitive techniques improved,” Yang continued. “As the results show potential adverse effects on human health, workers at these sites must also be given proper protection. Furthermore, one must consider the initial manufacturing process of electrical goods and look to utilize more environmentally and human friendly materials in their production.”

What Exactly is in Those Electronics?

You know that your laptop, tablet or smartphone may be toxic once it’s in a landfill, but what is it that makes them so harmful? There are several materials used to compose gadgets that shouldn’t be given back to the planet. Cadmium is one of them. It’s used in some contacts and switches, and it is often found in rechargeable batteries. Sometimes, it’s also used in older cathode ray tubes as a coating. When it’s disposed, it is released into the environment, and humans and animals can potentially inhale it. Long-term exposure can result in kidney damage and bone toxicity. Lead is another material used in items such as circuit boards. The toxicity of lead has been known for quite some time, but it’s still making its way into the environment through electronics. Lead can damage the nervous system, impact the kidneys and alter reproduction. Mercury, which also has a reputation for its negative impact on human health, can be found in many flat screen displays. When it is discarded inappropriately, it can enter the environment in the form of vapor. After mercury has been inhaled, it has the potential to affect brain development and the central nervous system. These are just some of the many materials and chemicals that can be found in technology that we use every day. While there’s no guarantee that you’re being exposed to these dangers on a regular basis, it’s worth considering how your gadgets may eventually impact the environment and the air you breathe.

Taking Care of Your Old Electronics

No one wants to know that his or her old mobile phone has reverted into chemicals and materials that harm human health. That being said, it’s never too late to familiarize yourself with how to properly dispose of your unwanted electronics. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a section on their website where you can find a local area near you that takes recyclable electronics for safe disposal. Here, you’ll also find out which vendors are participating in the Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge. The EPA created the challenge to encourage manufacturers to responsibly recycle their electronics. Groups that accept the challenge send 100 percent of their used goods to recognized third-party certified recyclers by their third year of participation. Afterward, they publicly report this information. The SMM Electronics Challenge is open to original equipment manufacturers and retailers alike. The goal is to demonstrate leadership through the use of third-party recyclers and responsibly manage old electronics. Current participants include Dell Inc., Best Buy, Samsung and Staples. Before you decide to recycle your electronics, the EPA encourages you to rethink your existing belongings first. Could you continue to use your product if you updated the hardware or software? This may reduce the amount of electronics that enter landfills each year. When it comes time to say good-bye to your aging laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone, be mindful of its battery. Depending on how the battery is made and the chemicals inside, it may need to be recycled separately. If you are getting rid of an item such as a computer, you should also be mindful of the information stored on the device. Personal information could fall into the wrong hands if you don’t take precautionary measures beforehand. While it requires a bit of effort to make sure you recycle electronics properly, doing so can help you preserve the planet and your health. Whether you want to learn more about recycling your gadgets or cleaning up your local community, consider visiting the EPA website for valuable information on how to achieve your goals.