E-waste is discarded electronics – the latest and greatest of technology just a few years into their life cycle doomed by the newest upgrades. Our narcissistic need for trendy gadgets has increased the demand and reliance on raw materials, rare earth and precious metals. But our material supply is limited and much of the electronics currently in circulation are not being recycled. The depletion of natural resources itself is bad enough, but the vast amount of e-waste in landfills is also polluting at their worst.
In 2014, one study estimated 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was generated – “an amount that would fill 1.15 million 18-wheel trucks. Lined up, those trucks would stretch from New York to Tokyo and back.” E-waste is the fastest growing municipal waste in the United States. Globally, the volume of e-waste was expected to rise by 33% between 2012 and 2017. The problem is amplified by illegal dumping into developing countries like China, India, and African countries. E-waste buyers in those places are often unregulated despite stringent laws in place. They extract commodities from e-waste using the most horrendous methods. Their people pay the price with their health and safety, but the world suffers from their poor environmental and social practices.
Enter the responsible e-waste recyclers. Domestic players who process e-waste locally and creating jobs, putting value back into commerce. But the US e-waste industry is no rose garden either. A recent HuffPost article pointed out that industry workers in the U.S. have been documented to have “taken home” contaminants (e.g., lead) to cause health problems in children exposed to the contaminant particles. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does require e-waste recycling facilities to provide protective clothing and respirators to their employees. But the lack of proper training among other things have attributed to detectable health effects. Or, the current protective standards are not sufficient and we need to improve those and reflect the changes in our policies and regulations.
The HuffPost article named a Cincinnati resident impacted by this “take-home” contaminant problem. Cincinnati Children's Hospital made the medical discovery. There are other e-waste recyclers in Cincinnati who are part of the responsible business community and are more than happy to hear medical data is now available to help improve our standards and hold accountable our performances. This may very well effect policy changes and put Cincinnati on the map for being the e-waste expert. Cincinnati's health care industry also can lead the world in medical research on this topic, further strengthening Cincinnati's credentials.
Remember: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
One estimated the value of e-waste to be worth $52 billion in 2014.