American E-waste Causes World’s Highest Level of Carcinogens in Chinese City

Black plumes of smoke funnel into the air from the charred bottom of an empty riverbed. The riverbanks are barren. Not even a twig emerges from the dry, cracked soil. Various bits of plastic and metal litter the earth: the small alt key from a computer keyboard, a cracked-open lithium battery, the silicon pieces of a broken monitor. Inside the charcoaled riverbed, the cathode of a desktop monitor erupts into flames, releasing a great cloud of lead-filled smoke into the air. A television is eaten by the flames; raw mercury seeps into the soil. After the blast cools, the children come out to play, fumbling through the charred remains. They finger the small melted devices, sword-fighting with un-melted antennas, bending computer wires into post-modern dolls, finger-painting with the ashes of the lead-filled soil.

Guiyo, China contains the world’s highest level of cancer-causing agents. It has become America’s dump yard for electronics, the scourge of a modern age, where families work to burn and dispose of American electronics for a mere 8 dollars a day. Effectively, the citizens of Guiyo must chose between poverty and poison, though the work they do just to survive is slowly killing them.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that over 157 million computer products were disposed of in 2007. The statistics are staggering. About 80-85% of these were discarded to landfills, or worse, sent overseas to third world countries, to places such as Guiyo, China, where the toxic remains were incinerated or left in landfills. According to a 2005 EPA report, only 12.5% of electronics are being collected for recycling. In the last few years, there have been a few attempts to rectify this, however discarded electronics still make up around 2% of the municipal solid waste stream, and electronics have become the fastest growing solid waste stream in the world. The combined products sitting in our landfills contain over a thousand toxic chemicals, including lead, Beryllium, Mercury, Cadmium, and Chromium. The effects of such substances include various cancers, physical mutations, brain disease, and kidney disease. The increased consumption of our electronics coupled with the high turnover rate of technology has left our landfills littered with hazardous electronic waste. In an attempt to resolve this, the United States has donated used or outdated electronics to poorer nations, such as Mexico, in an attempt to recycle the devices and help out the underprivileged. However, many of these countries do not have adequate programs for recycling electronics, and so once these laptops, phones, and ipods become obsolete, they are not disposed of properly. The results are multiple health and environmental threats when dangerous chemicals within the electronics leach out into food and water sources.

In 2007 alone, 40 million computers became obsolete. This number has become even more staggering in the last two years. Currently, every day in the United States, we throw out 130,000 computers. That’s tons and tons of un-biodegradable electronic waste filling our landfills, leaching out dangerous carcinogens and chemicals. In addition, the lifespan of a computers or laptop has shrunk from 4-5 years to just over 2 years, and about half of computers that people dispose of are still working. With the rapid pace of technology change, many are continuously updating their devices, resulting in a high amount of electronic waste. In the last year, the disposal rate of older computers has begun to double the purchase rate of new computers. The result will be billions of dollars spent to clean up our landfills and health risks that could include thousands of cases of cancer, lead-poisoning, or kidney disease.

The e-waste statistics are almost as staggering for cellular phones. Though cell phones do not take up as much space as laptop and desktop computers, they are equally as dangerous. Components of the lithium batteries in cell phones, as well as various flame retardants within cell phones are toxic to humans. Last year, 126 million cellular phones were discarded. What’s worse- cell phones have a lower rate of recycling than computers do. Of the over 140 million cell phones purchased in 2007, only 14 million were recycled.

Two of the newest, and perhaps most prolific, electronic devices in the last 10 years are the ipod and iphone. The ipod and the iphone provide users with thousands of songs at the touch of a bottom in a device that can conveniently fit in your pocket. Yet, this same device that provides thousands of songs can spend thousands of years in a landfill. Apple has sold over 180 million ipods to date, resulting in a staggering e-waste problem, especially since Apple has specifically designed its products to be both disposable and replaceable only by another Apple device. In 2001, the introduction of the ipod was coupled by iTunes, a software program which formats and organizes one’s music specifically for an Apple device. Though iTunes can use multiple file formats for songs, the program most often saves songs in a protected AAC format. Thus, when one’s ipod breaks or the battery dies, much of the music on iTunes can be accessible via portable device only by purchasing another Apple product, and although Apple advertisements claim that the ipod will last for several years, the battery life of an ipod is quite short. The lithium battery in an ipod can lose more than half of its capacity after 13 months of regular use. The result is less usage time without recharging and a highly disposable product. Replacing an old battery costs $50-$100 and requires the user to clear all music on the ipod, so many users simply buy a new one and the old ipod becomes another piece of e-waste.

As Americans, we must become smarter and more resourceful with the consumption and disposal of our electronics, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of the third world countries whose people we are killing. The disposal of our technology must not afflict our lives in such a dramatic and hazardous way. It is fast and simple to sell a used or broken laptop, cell phone, iphone, or ipod online to get cash to supplement a new device. As responsible citizens, we must sell and recycle our used electronics and help prevent electronic waste.

Katy Marie is a freelance writer from Reno, NV. She has written numerous articles on how to prevent E-waste. Find out how to get cash for your used electronics .

Article Source: American E-waste Causes World's Highest Level of Carcinogens in Chinese City