Audio File for Project
Hey everybody! Welcome back to sustainable science… & stuff!
For those of you who are first time listeners, glad to have you here. This is a podcast about all things sustainable! Today’s episode will be about the problem of electronic waste, or e-waste.
We will begin from a broad perspective, defining exactly what “e-waste” is and why it is such an important issue. We will also cover the environmental impacts and health effects of e-waste.
Finally, I will zoom into the microscopic scale of the local community. I will explain how you as the consumer can alleviate this problem of e-waste. As with any environmental issue, there is no silver bullet. However, there certainly are things you can do to help this issue. I will be focusing specifically on solutions in and around Asheville, North Carolina in this podcast, but many of these solutions can be modified and extrapolated for other areas.
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03:15-03:50: What is E-Waste?
So what is e-waste, anyways? It is the ever-growing collection of electronic devices that have reached the end of their lifespan and are no longer usable. After your shiny new phone is no longer so new, or your dilapidated Dell from 2010 finally calls it quits, all it really is an intricate combination of rare metals and glass, among other things. Not many people think about what happens to these things after we throw them away!
Let’s delve into what is so bad about electronic waste as compared to everything else we throw away. Electronic waste contains various heavy metals and chemicals, including but not limited to lead, mercury, cadmium, and beryllium; as well as fire retardants (Saha 2021). These heavy metals can leach into water and cause various health problems. Lead is especially well known as to impact IQ and rates of violence, among many other things. If you are curious, search “correlations and lead concentration” in Google and look at the images. Other health effects associated with these metals include impaired fetal growth, stillbirth, slower growth, impaired cognitive function and lower IQ scores (Grant, 2013).
04:40-05:40: General Solutions
In this podcast, I am here to inform your average citizen about what they can do to help this problem.
As with most environmental issues, your actions can feel like a drop in the ocean, and it is easy to believe that what you do really won’t have a large impact. However, that is far from true. We need a culture shift, and that will begin with people like you! Certainly not giant tech companies…
Here is what you can do! For one, think about whether or not you really need that new gadget. If your phone still works, why not hold onto it for a little while longer. And when it is finally time to give up that phone, try donating it. This will extend the life of your technology as well as allowing for someone less fortunate to have access to have technology they may not have been able to afford.
05:40-07:12: Local Solutions for Asheville
Focusing on Asheville, NC, there are many ways locals can be green and help with e-waste. There are state sponsored recycling centers that hold days for recycling technologies. Lead acid batteries are accepted every day at Buncombe County landfill, and technologies such as cell phones and TV’s are accepted on the days that are posted on their website (Buncombe County Recycling Guide, 2021). As for people who must get rid of technology or cannot make a recycling day, local Goodwills also accept donations. According to Goodwill, “All brands and conditions are accepted.” Not only this, but Goodwill offers pickup of technology for businesses with a large quantity of items to donate (Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, 2013).
There are also online tools that can help you recycle whatever you need! For example, those of you in the Asheville area can head over to the Waste Wizard applet on Buncombe County .org. Don’t worry, the link will be in the description. This website allows you to type in whatever it is you want to recycle. For example, I typed television into the input prompt and it returned a list of recycling options. They are even ranked, with one option being better than the others (Buncombe 2022). A non-profit organization in Buncombe county called Hard 2 Recycle offers events that specialize in recycling e-waste! A link to the Hard 2 Recycle website can be found in the description.
07:12-08:17: Local Solutions for Other Areas
For the rest of you all who live in other areas, the county website is often a great place to find more information on e-waste recycling. They often have little applets or pamphlets that show you where to go or what to do with your e-waste.
Sadly, it is not the easiest thing to recycle electronics in most places in the US, including in Asheville. The list given to consumers of things to do falls short of what must be done to solve the problem. At the end of most articles, research papers, etc. the dire need for the regulation of the tech industry is emphasized. The consumers can only do so much, especially with the little investment that has been made to allow consumers to do anything at all. The best thing we can do is reduce our consumption, which is hard to hear and conflicts with the zeitgeist of American consumer culture.
It is easy not to care in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems. Just remember, the true environmental cost of electronics is not factored into the price, and is felt by some of the most underprivileged in our world. Before you buy that next phone, or throw one away, remember that you do have an impact. You can affect change, and no action is too small.
Public Science Project Bibliography
- Saha, L., Kumar, V., Tiwari, J., , Rawat, S., Singh, J., & Bauddh, K. (2021). Electronic waste and their leachates impact on human health and environment: Global ecological threat and management. Environmental Technology & Innovation, 24, 102049. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eti.2021.102049
- Buncombe County Recycling Guide. (2021). https://www.buncombecounty.org/common/solidWaste/Recycling-Guide.pdf
- Fortuna, C. (2022, May 31). Tech’s E-Waste Problems. CleanTechnica. https://cleantechnica.com/2022/05/31/techs-e-waste-problems/
- Free electronics recycling available through Goodwill Industries. (2013, January 24). Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. https://www.ashevillechamber.org/news-events/free-electronics-recycling-available-through-goodwill-industries/
- Grant, K., Goldizen, F. C., Sly, P. D., Brune, M.-N., Neira, M., van den Berg, M., & Norman, R. E. (2013). Health consequences of exposure to e-waste: a systematic review. The Lancet Global Health, 1(6), e350-e361. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(13)70101-3
- Hazlegreaves, S. “The toxicological implications of e-waste”. Open Access Government, 28 June 2021, https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/the-toxicological-implications-of-e-waste/114139/.
- US EPA, O. (2015, September 3). Basic Information about Electronics Stewardship [Overviews and Factsheets]. https://www.epa.gov/smm-electronics/basic-information-about-electronics-stewardship
- US EPA, O. (2014, March 18). Cleaning Up Electronic Waste (E-Waste) [Overviews and Factsheets]. https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/cleaning-electronic-waste-e-waste
- WEEE: Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment – Impact of WEEE. Retrieved September 4, 2022, from https://ewaste.ece.uw.edu/students/impacts-of-e-waste-on-the-environment/
- “Recycling: Your Guide on What and Where to Recycle in Buncombe County.” (2022) Buncombe County, https://www.buncombecounty.org/governing/depts/solid-waste/recycling.aspx.