Disposal of e-waste is an emerging environmental health issue, as well as being incredibly harmful to developing communities. The disposal of technological waste is a rapidly-growing area of formal waste management, driven by continual upgrading and the development of more advanced devices, leading many experts to believe that we are soon to be on the cusp of an electronic pollution disaster.
Electronics contain harmful components such as cadmium, heavy metals and brominated flame retardants, which when exposed to the environment from landfill sites, incinerators or via informal processing of e-waste, emits harmful gasses and pollutants into the environment.
For example, traces of e-waste pollutants are, staggeringly, finding their way into the food chain in some countries. Contaminating the soils, toxic heavy metals such as lead and arsenic are having negative impacts upon species of plants and wildlife who reside in the soil.
These harmful elements remain in the food chain, risking the future of many species and communities alike. The leaching of e-waste into the groundwater is also impacting upon streams, ponds and lakes, resulting in sickness and poisoning of water-dwelling species as well as humans who use unfiltered freshwater for drinking and washing.
Safer e-waste management procedures are required to prevent these toxins from being released, particularly in developing and at-risk communities.
A sustainable and safe upgrade
With awareness surrounding e-waste beginning to grow, I hope that we will adopt a preventative strategy of technological waste management, before we enter the realms of fast-fashion, ocean-plastic and food waste. We all have a critical role to play as consumers of technology to choose when and how we upgrade, and to do so responsibly. Before you consider upgrading your device, ask yourself the following questions:
• How long have I had my device for and is it still in good working order?
• Why am I wanting to upgrade my device? Is it for materialistic reasons?
• If so, how different is the newer device going to be to my existing one? Are these differences worth the wastage of my current device?
• Could I re-vamp my current device instead? Perhaps do a factory reset, upgrade the software or get a new battery?
• Can I send my device to be repaired or ask my manufacturer for assistance?
If you are going to consider an upgrade, ensure that you recycle your device using traceable recycling companies. I would also encourage you to source a factory-refurbished device, or a device from a reputable company with an ethical ethos.
You can take a look at the Ethical Consumer’s website to find out the best and worst tech companies and brands to purchase from, ensuring you use your buying power for the better.
We all have a serious role to play in shaping the future of electronic waste and its impact upon the environment, and the wellbeing of disadvantaged and vulnerable communities around the globe – and it begins with re-assessing our relationship with upgrading our devices.
Charlotte is a freelance journalist and health writer who has worked with Veganuary and The Vegan Society and other online vegan publications. Her fields of expertise and interest include vegan nutrition, holistic healthcare, mindfulness and fitness.