Home News Dumping electronics cause for alarm

Dumping electronics cause for alarm

by Archives September 22, 2009

An estimated 272,000 tonnes of electronic equipment end up in landfills every year, according to Natural Resources Canada.
This “dangerous activity” subjects the planet to hazardous toxins and depletes valuable natural resources, said Stephanie Leclerc, a graduate student in waste management and sustainable development at École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC).
With the volume of discarded electronics expected to grow, “e-waste” is now widely recognized as one of the fastest growing waste streams, or sources of waste, in North America.
Because there are no standards to follow when disposing of electronics, much of the harmful waste that doesn’t go to landfills is shipped to developing countries, where they are mined for reusable and valuable metals contained inside.
Electronics, even after they stop serving a purpose to the consumer, contain valuable materials.
Leclerc referred to an American study that found one ton of e-waste contains more gold than 17 tons of gold ore.
Environment Canada estimated in 2003 that there is about 4,750 tons of lead in the computers and televisions Canadians throw out each year.
A ton of cell phones (approximately 6,000 handsets) contains 3.5 kilograms of silver, 340 grams of gold and 130 kilograms of copper – all of which are reusable, according to Reudiger Kuehr, executive secretary of an initiative called Solving the E-Waste Problem.
When e-waste lands in developing countries, it is often incinerated to recover metals.
“Kids and women in Bangladesh or in Africa end up burning the waste to recover the metals inside,” Kuehr said. “They breathe in toxins, pollute the air, and they only get maybe 25 per cent of the gold.”
Recovering metals with a proper recycling process has a much less grave impact on the planet. Recycling electronics generates a fraction of the carbon dioxide emissions and land degradation than is caused by mining.
In an effort to reverse – or at least curb – the problem, experts behind the the world’s first e-waste academy said electronic recycling needs to be governed by worldwide standards.
Electronics that are properly broken down and separated can yield a much higher percentage of the metals contained inside, without releasing the same amount of toxins.
Concordia University offers a drop-off service for electronics. Marc Champagne, the university’s manager of custodial services, said the school sends every computer it receives to be recycled.
When enough electronics have been collected, they are sent to FCM Recycling, a provincially-certified plant.
Part of the growing problem with e-waste is a lack of consumer awareness, Leclerc said.
“Consumers need to be aware of the risks involved when discarding their old equipment,” she said.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment