An employee arranges discarded computers at a newly opened electronic waste recycling factory in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Photo: REUTERS

By Lauren Walker
28 November 2014

(Newsweek) – While the fact that 95.5 million Americans said they would shop on Black Friday is good news for retailers, it is a far less positive figure for the environment. Cheap electronics are one of the biggest draws for shoppers on the day (and indeed the rest of the year), but these immediate savings hide the ultimate collective cost - old electronics (e-waste) that are improperly disposed of can result in environmental pollution with its attendant health risks, as well as data theft.

In 2012, the world amassed almost 49 million metric tons of e-waste, including everything from last generation cellphones and laptops to televisions and washing machines. The largest contributor, the United States, supplied nearly 66 pounds of e-waste per person that year. And the trend is only growing. One study, conducted by a United Nations partner organization, projects that this number will rise to 65.4 million metric tons by 2017. As the amount of e-waste dramatically increases, solutions for proper disposal have lagged considerably behind.

Some old electronics wind up collecting dust in homes as consumers are either unsure of what to do with their outdated devices, or fear for the security of their data. Others hand their aged gadgets to family members or friends.

But a great deal of e-waste ultimately winds up in landfills, meaning the toxic materials they contain, such as lead, arsenic, beryllium and mercury, often end up leaking into the environment, poisoning ecosystems and harming not only humans but animals and plants too. Improper disposal also poses a risk to data security as any information that has not been wiped from a device can usually be extracted with ease.

E-waste recyclers can be seen to be a responsible response to this problem. Though there has yet to be a centralized response by the federal government to the growing e-waste issue, many of these recyclers have opted to follow self-imposed certification systems that hold them accountable for environmental and data safety. [more]

Mounting Electronic Waste Poses Major Threat to Environment, Health

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