Reports show that about 50 million tons of electronic waste is produced every year globally. The UN, along with other global welfare organizations, are increasingly raising concerns over the growing rate of E-waste production that is expected to reach 120 million tons per year by 2050.
Alarmingly, only less than 20% of E-waste is recycled. Most of it is improperly disposed of in dumps and landfills.
The call to action against E-waste is not far-fetched. To explore these global concerns, we need to look at the effects of E-waste on the environment.
What are the Effects of E-waste on the Environment?
In this piece, we are not going to get into the security hazards of improper E-waste disposal. To understand the environmental impact of E-waste, let’s break down the effects on the three pillars of the environment – air, water, and soil; and also see how these elements of pollution affect the ecosystem.
E-waste is mostly dumped in third world countries where handlers forage for valuable or useful parts. Electronic waste disposal in many of these countries, is unregulated, and the government does not follow up on disposal and recycling standards.
The waste is burnt to expose metals like copper, aluminum, steel, and gold. Heaps of E-waste are bunt in the open air under very low temperatures. The burning rubber, plastic, and silicon release hazardous gases into the atmosphere that get blown away by the wind for hundreds of miles.
E-waste contaminates surface water when rainwater dissolves toxic chemicals such as heavy metal compounds of barium, lead, and mercury that rushes down to ponds, rivers, and lakes.
Using E-waste for landfills may seem like a practical disposal approach, but it also leads to underground water pollution. The same heavy metal compounds leach through the soil to reach underground water reservoirs.
The soil may be polluted by direct contact with contaminants from E-waste, or indirectly through contact with contaminated water, for instance through irrigation.
Surface heaps of E-waste and buried E-waste both change the chemical composition of the surrounding soil. The ash generated from burning electronics and fine dust from shredding also find their way deep into the topsoil, where they change the soil structure and texture.
How Does All This Affect the Ecosystem?
All these pollutants eventually find their way to plants, animals, and even humans.
Contaminated soil and water kill vegetation and, consequently, the animals that rely on the plants for food. Airborne pollutants settle and accumulate on the leaves.
Many animals, including humans, inhale these pollutants. Animals also suffer in diverse ways after ingesting contaminated water and foliage.
Eventually, heavy metals and other toxins, especially in water, are elevated through the food chain to hazardous concentrations at the high feeders. In this case, humans and other top predators often suffer the effects of lead and mercury poisoning.
Altering the chemical composition of the air, land, and water has irreversible adverse effects on the ecosystem.
Play Your Part
The effects of E-waste on environment impact us all. It is up to you to take action against the harmful consequences of improper waste disposal. Even as international organizations begin to regulate the disposal of E-waste, you still have a role to play.
Find ways to reuse, recycle, or properly dispose of your electronics. Every individual’s effort goes a long way in conserving the environment.
One way to do this is to work with a waste disposal partner. We specialize in disposing and handling wastes, including E-waste recycling. Get in touch with us today and find out how we can help.