Plugging into the e-waste problem

| December 26, 2013

Technology becomes outdated at an alarming rate. From Samuel Mann.

What do you know about e-waste? The name is kind of misleading. It evokes images of something virtual — maybe something you’d put into the “trash” bin on your computer.

In truth e-waste (a.k.a. electronic waste) is very tangible, very real, and a very big problem.

E-waste is a blanket term that covers appliances, computers, phones, televisions, and any other discarded electronic devices. As a society, we’re becoming increasingly dependent on a slew of electronics. We’re also susceptible to Shiny Object Syndrome, which means that we’re always looking for the bigger, better, newer item.

All that old stuff has to go somewhere, right?

The United Nations recently compiled data on e-waste, and the resulting report is pretty stunning. The report predicts that, “by 2017, the global volume of [e-waste] will weigh almost as much as 200 Empire State Buildings.”

Personally, I’ve never bothered to weigh the Empire State Building — but I can guess that it’s pretty darn heavy.

In 2012, the U.S. produced 10.4 million tons of e-waste. That’s a difficult number to wrap your head around, and yet, that massive number only lands us at the number seven spot on the worldwide list of highest production of e-waste per person by weight. (Qatar earned the top spot.)

Weight isn’t the only way to look at e-waste. In 2010, the U.S. generated nearly 260 million e-waste “units” (a unit means one computer, one cell phone, one television, etc.).

That’s not too far off from equaling one discarded item for every single man, woman, and child in the country. (Little did you know that babies were throwing out refrigerators!)

The sheer volume of e-waste generated throughout the world is concerning to many. A 2010 feature in Live Science pointed out that “developing nations are generating more and more electronic waste, even as they remain a dumping ground for wealthier nations’ old computers, cell phones and refrigerators.” (Check out Live Science’s  revealing infographic on the subject below.)

As you can imagine, all that e-waste contains toxic materials that don’t make for very friendly living conditions.

The silver lining in all this dire news? We may be producing more e-waste than ever, but we’re also recycling more e-waste than ever.

Jason Linnell, the executive director of the U.S. National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) says, “We’re seeing more recycling programs, and a lot of states are collecting 5 to 6 pounds of e-waste per person per year.”

Any recycling is good, but that figure is still a mere drop in the bucket compared to the estimated 66 pounds of e-waste per person per year that we’re generating.

“It’s better than the past, but we still have a ways to go,” says Linnell. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

The U.S. and China produce more total e-waste than any other country, according to a new map that tracks e-waste around the world.



Category: Electronics

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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