In his attempt to propose improvements to electronic waste (e-waste) recycling practices, Saphores questioned the U.S. nation about their e-waste recycling habits, their knowledge of policies and penalties and whether people are at all aware of what to do with their unneeded electronic devices.
It has been estimated that across the U.S., only in 2010, Americans kept around a million old computer monitors, 84 million broken television sets, and more than 200 million broken or unused cellphones. Most probably, with the numerous technological advances in the field of electronics since then, we can only expect that these numbers have increased exponentially. The question that Saphores’ study tries to answer is whether people are aware of policies and legal practices.
The findings of the study were presented at the annual National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society held this week in Indianapolis. Saphores conducted a survey, which indicates that regardless of existing e-waste disposal bans and recycling programs, society, and women and elderly members of the American population in particular, are very much unaware of what they should do once their electronic device is no longer in use. The study concludes that in order to improve the effectiveness of existing laws, which are currently extremely unpopular, new programs and initiatives should be encouraged by the government and the manufacturers.
But let’s look at more detail to why e-waste is such a threat to the environment. Typically, electronic devices, their screens and their rechargeable batteries are made of extremely toxic elements including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc. If these elements end up in the environment, which usually happens when improperly disposed, they pose a serious risk to groundwater contamination and can cause severe health problems.
What is more, e-waste usually gets dumped in developing countries, where policies and regulations are vague, and hard numbers about people affected by it are way too difficult to gather.
This is why Saphores suggested that manufacturers should be kept responsible for what happens with their products. Currently, customers are offered hardly any incentives to make them drive to the shop or the factory where they bought their device and return it. Saphores also points out that some of the elements that are found in e-waste are of limited availability, especially the rare-earth elements used in screens. If electronic device makers recycle them, they might even make profit.
Hopefully some improvements to existing policies will be made very soon, but in case you are not aware of existing methods to recycle your e-waste, do go ahead and contact your local government.