"Just throw it in the garbage" is an option many of us try to avoid when getting rid of things; we look for ways to get them reused, or ways to recycle.
But when it comes to electronics (cell phones, TVs, computers, etc.) it's more than just a matter of adding to landfills.
As GreenCitizen points out:
- Electronic equipment contains harmful toxins which, when released into the environment, can contaminate our water, land and air. Lead, mercury, cadmium and flame retardants are all persistent, bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs) that cause birth defects and damage to coronary, respiratory, nervous and skeletal systems.And as Earth 911 tells us (before going on to list the specific problems associated with televisions, cell phones and computers):
- A single computer or television monitor contains an average of 4 to 8 pounds of lead. Monitor glass contains about 20% lead by weight. When this glass is crushed in a landfill, the lead leaches into the soil.
Electronic waste accounts for 70 percent of the overall toxic waste that you currently find in landfills. In addition to valuable metals like aluminum, electronics often contain hazardous materials like lead and mercury.Want a good visual? National Geographic has a wonderful tour of the toxic components of a computer.
When placed in a landfill, these materials (even in small doses) can contaminate soil as well as drinking water.
Another visual? Californians Against Waste has a pie chart showing what's in your PC.
Greenpeace International also provides a run-down of just what's in our electronic devices. And their recent study Toxic Tech: Not in Our Backyard indicates that, in the U.S, "less than 20% of the e-waste categories televisions, PCs including peripherals and mobile phones were separated from other waste streams for further processing and recovery." In the combined 27 countries of the European Union, the figure is only slightly better, at 25%.
And in some places, it's illegal to put such items in the trash. I won't try to summarize the laws in other places, but in my state of California, it is now illegal to put televisions and computer monitors, computers, printers, VCRs, cell phones, telephones, radios, and microwave ovens in the trash.
So how should you dispose of electronics you no longer want? I'll cover that in the next series of posts.
[cell phone photo from djwudi / Michael Hanscom]