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What should we do with e-waste problem?

In 2016, the world’s population discarded 49 million tons of e-waste which is equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers. It’s estimated that by 2021, that number will grow to more than 57 million tons. In 2018, the United Nations also predicts that by 2050, the world's annual volume of electronic waste will reach 120 million tons.

These are the reasons why electronic waste grows fast. According to Global E-waste Monitor, half of the world's electronic waste is discarded personal electronic products, such as personal computers, display screens, smart phones, tablet computers, and televisions. The other half includes large household appliances and heating and cooling products. In 2016, a total of 435,000 smartphones were thrown away in the world. If the metal elements in them were recycled, the value could reach US$9.5 billion. However, only 20% of e-waste goes into recycling.

Moreover, the life span of devices is getting shorter so that many products will be thrown away once their batteries die, to be replaced with new devices. Companies intentionally plan the obsolescence of their goods by updating the design or software and discontinuing support for older models, so that now it is usually cheaper and easier to buy a new product than to repair an old one. Meanwhile, the companies continue to profit from steady sales.

Where does E-waste end up? Actually, China accepted 70 percent of the world’s electronic waste such as discarded computers, cell phones, printers, televisions, microwaves, smoke alarms, and other electronic equipment and parts. Other informal recycling markets like India, Pakistan,Vietnam, and Philippines also handle the world’s e-waste. Since 2017, China stopped accepting this e-waste out of concern for its environment, Europe and North America began shipping more of it to Southeast Asia—but now Vietnam and Thailand, whose ports have been overwhelmed, are curbing imported e-waste as well.

As most electronics contain toxic materials such as lead, zinc, nickel, barium and chromium, they may release into bodies of water, groundwater, soil and air, affecting both land and sea animals. When you throw out your e-waste they wind up in landfills, causing toxic materials to seep into groundwater. When e-waste is warmed up, toxic chemicals are released into the air damaging the atmosphere. It may also cause damage to human blood, kidney , as well as central and peripheral nervous systems.

In order to reduce e-waste, manufacturers need to design electronics that are safer, and more durable, repairable and recyclable. They should make electronics last as long as they once did. Most smartphone batteries can’t be easily replaced when they stop holding a charge, new laptops don’t accept old cables, and software companies push upgrades that won’t run on old devices. Our products today don’t last as long as they used to, and it’s a strategy by manufacturers to force us into shorter and shorter upgrade cycles.

For the sake of the environment, we should resist buying a new device until we really need it. Try to get our old product repaired if possible and if it can’t be fixed, resell or recycle it responsibly. Before recycling your device, seal up any broken parts in separate containers so that hazardous chemicals don’t leak. Wear latex gloves and a mask if you’re handling something that’s broken.

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