While many of us are guilty of being avid consumers of the newest iPhone or Samsung models, the latest technology-infused laptops, and the biggest iPads, we seldom think about what becomes of our old and seemingly useless gadgets: E-waste.
E-waste sits in the landfill similarly to most of our other trash, but is found to be much more toxic due to the issues it causes to not only the environment, but also human health. E-waste is often exported to developing countries, where workers seek to recycle the valuable gold, silver, and copper in the devices we use. But developing countries often don’t have access to safe recycling facilities, and instead establish informal recycling centers that use dangerous and outdated recycling techniques to extract the metals, such as acid leaching and burning.
These dangerous techniques directly expose toxic chemicals to not only the recycling worker, but entire villages that are often near the recycling centers, causing decreased lung function, thyroid dysfunction, and other health problems to village residents. E-waste chemicals are also found to cause stillbirth, miscarriage, and other adverse births in pregnant women, as well as negatively affect brain development in children.
In addition to being a danger to humans, ‘acid leaching’, a method of extracting gold, releases around 1,000 hazardous substances into the environment including polyaromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins—exposing nearby wildlife to chemicals as well.
So, what can we do as e-waste continues to pose a threat to people and the environment?
One potential solution to the issue is the electronic Right to Repair laws. Big tech companies profit from damaged devices as customers buy new ones, and intentionally create electronics very hard to repair. Electronic Right to Repair laws will require manufacturers to share information on methods of repair and tools to third parties, allowing customers to fix their devices themselves, or take it to a cheaper repair facility. With Right to Repair laws, consumers will be able to use their devices, and decrease e-waste.
The Right to Repair law is not yet prevalent across the US, and is still waiting for a governor’s signature in New York. However, if it does make it into our daily lives, we will not only be saving our money, but also taking a step to save the environment, and even saving the lives of children affected by e-waste.
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