Electronics are a reality of modern life – cell phones, laptops, TVs and a growing number of other gadgets. Consider that the rather niche market of Robotic toys alone is 30 billion dollars a year and growing.
Every year we buy new, updated equipment to support our needs and desires. Novelty is built into the next generation of products so that last years model will feel far less appealing, creating a strong compulsion to own the new gadget. Apple and Steven Jobs was, of course the most famous representative of this. His mysticism and showmanship combined to make Apple new product releases the stuff of legends. He was a marketing genius but sadly, from an environmental perspective, his ability to create compulsion has actually done the environment a disservice.
Over 300 million computers and one billion cell phones are produced every year to satisfy our global demand. The US alone generates 3 million tons of e-waste, of which only 15% is recycled. And of that 15% recycled, only a fraction of materials can be recovered.
Figure 1: Projected growth of consumer electronic goods worldwide (Source: Gartner and Forrester Research 2012)
Forrester Research issued a forecast in March 2012 and expects that the number of adults who will own a tablet device in 2016 will be:
- 112.5 million U.S. adults, or 34.3 percent of the population
- 105.7 million European adults or 30.4 percent of the population
It comes as no surprise then, that electronic equipment and gadgets are also the fastest growing waste stream in many countries. All of these electronic devices become obsolete or unwanted, often within 2-3 years of purchase. This global mountain of waste is expected to continue growing 8% per year, indefinitely (BCC Research). A 2010 EPA report indicates that in the United States alone, 142,000 computers and over 416,000 mobile devices are discarded EVERY DAY and of this amount, only 600,000 tons or 17.7 % was recycled. The rest was sent to landfills or incinerators.
Much of this e-waste has illegally ended up in Ghana and China where it forces people to choose poison over extreme poverty. By burning wire, circuitboards to ineffectively mine copper and other metals, these unprotected people are subjecting themselves to some of the most powerful toxins in the world.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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Figure 1: Effects of e-waste on human body (Source: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition)
Figure 1: E-Waste Infographic
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