Toxic Trash of the Past

Toxic Trash of the Past

by Ilana Nevins, Eco Coalition Editor
Can our newest, most convenient electronics lead us toward a future of toxic trash? As technology continues to play a larger role in our world, and electronics continue to be disposed, our planet simply cannot keep up. E-waste, or electronics that are broken, discarded or unused, includes cell phones, televisions, batteries, refrigerators, stereos, and computers. Although these items are essential parts of our daily life, we often do not consider what happens to them once we throw them in the trash.

Currently, e-waste is increasing at a rate double that of any other waste, and there are no signs of it slowing down. Only 15-20% of our annual e-waste is recycled, while the rest fills our landfills and incinerators. Much of our e-waste is shipped to developing countries. Often these countries have extremely weak regulation of the disposal of e-waste and disregard for the hazardous effects. E-waste is discarded in landfills where the toxins travel into nearby water supplies and atmosphere, harming surrounding communities. Also, e-waste undergoes incineration, which releases the toxins into the air through burning it, often causing bioaccumulation of toxins in wildlife, especially fish.

A frightening amount of toxins are found in even the simplest of our electronics. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) contain lead, which disrupts the nervous system, and are found in T.V. and computer monitors and circuit boards. The neurotoxin Mercury is found in flat screens. Cadium, a carcinogen, is common in batteries and circuit boards and is extremely toxic to the bones and kidneys. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), found in connectors, cables and plastic cables, has detrimental effects on humans immune and reproductive systems. Unfortunately, disposal of these hazardous items is not heavily regulated, and the health effects are already impacting many lives.

However, alternative disposal methods may help decrease the effects of e-waste on humans and our planet. Many companies now have take-back programs in which they discard consumers’ used or broken products for free. These companies often reuse and recycle the disposed appliances. Recycling e-waste helps to conserve our resources and reduce our energy usage by reusing metals, plastics, circuit boards, etc. Individuals can donate their used electronics to thrift shops such as Goodwill or to a local recycling center. To find a place to donate your e-waste, visit With growing consciousness regarding materials and accessibility to alternative disposals, the hazardous effects of e-waste can become trash of the past.

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Did you know…

Breathing air in highly populated and polluted metropolitan cities can reduce your life expectancy by 2 to 3 years?

70% of toxic waste in U.S. landfills consists of e-waste, items such as hard drives, monitors, servers, etc?

Data centers around the world consume more energy in one year than the entire country of Sweden?

At least 36 states in the U.S. are expected to face water shortages within the next 5 years?

Over 200 million items of e-waste are thrown away every year in the U.S.?