Across the globe, consumers have developed a passionate love for all things electronic. IPads, Blackberry devices, Xboxes, Smartphones, Playstations, and Nintendo video games have been phenomenal sellers, bringing endless pleasure to millions.
But as Earth Day approaches on April 22, electronics are getting plenty of publicity – and not necessarily in a favorable way. With the Earth Day celebrations encouraging people to become more proactive about protecting the environment, activists are again sounding the alarm about what they consider the dark side of our mass consumption of electronics.
“The amount of electronic products discarded globally has skyrocketed recently, with 20 to 50 million metric tons generated every year,” the environmental group Greenpeace noted. “If the estimated amount of e-waste generated every year were put into containers on a train, it (would) stretch all the way around the world.”
Environmentalists have been warning for years that used electronics, tossed in the garbage container like other common household trash items, pose significant risks when they end up in a landfill. Those devices contain toxins like mercury and lead that can poison the soil and groundwater, and pose serious health risks to our wildlife, and even to our own health.
The environmental community has been stressing the need for increased recycling rates worldwide, encouraging not only individuals to recycle their unwanted electronics, but also governments around the world to promote stronger e-waste recycling measures.
But they’re looking at the electronics manufacturers as well, hoping to convince them to change the way they make these products. Their goal is to increase the production of ‘Green Electronics,’ or devices made with fewer toxic contents.
These green electronics devices are popular with environmental groups because they’re made from recycled content and are energy efficient. Green electronics recycling is a key aspect of the solution.
How are Green Electronics Different from Older Models?
Electronics are perfectly safe to use. And that’s true even though these devices are made using materials that are considered toxic.
In fact, a very complex combination of toxic materials is used in electronics manufacturing, ranging from brominated substances to acids, solvents, heavy metals and plastics.
Exposure to cadmium, for example, can lead to health risks that include damaged lungs, bone defects, and prostate cancer. Lead exposure can damage your immune system and produce effects like low birth weight, learning deficits in children, and decreased mental ability.
Those chemicals are used in the manufacturing process and consumers are not at risk when they use their smartphones, laptops, DVD players and other devices.
It’s only when these items are discarded as e-waste in landfills that the risks increase that those toxins will seep out into the ground. In some countries, e-waste is burned to get rid of it, releasing those toxic chemicals into the air.
So organizations like Greenpeace have proposed a solution: why not manufacture these devices without those toxins?
“Every year, hundreds of thousands of old computers and mobile phones are disposed of unsustainably,” Greenpeace noted in a report they issued, “Guide to Greener Electronics.”
“The rate at which these mountains of obsolete electronic products are growing will reach crisis proportions unless the electronics corporations making and selling these devices own up to their responsibilities,” the report noted. “It is possible to make clean, durable products that can be upgraded, recycled, or disposed of safely and don’t end up as hazardous waste in someone’s backyard.”
The Guide to Greener Electronics, published by Greenpeace USA, aims to encourage companies to eliminate hazardous materials entirely from their products and make them more energy-efficient. That begins with the product design and continues through the full supply chain management within the electronics manufacturing sector. They want companies to focus on the elimination of hazardous chemicals from the products and the manufacturing process with a new, sustainable design and use of recycled materials to make them. This is the future with green electronics technology.
Manufacturers have responded. Green Electronics is also the name of a Seattle area company that specifically serves green minded consumers looking for longer-lasting value from products that are more energy efficient and less harmful to the environment.
They’ve become a source for green electronic design innovations for homes, businesses and organizations.
Why are Manufacturers Turning to Green Products?
In the case of e-waste, it’s become obvious there’s a serious environmental problem that used electronics pose. Electronic waste makes up a growing percentage of all municipal solid waste worldwide, but it’s considerably more hazardous than other discarded items.
And the problem is only getting worse as innovations in technology have encouraged electronics manufacturers to upgrade devices on a regular basis because of faster speeds, new use options, or other advances. Today people are upgrading their mobile phones, computers, and other devices more frequently than ever before, leaving a rising amount of e-waste, which is increasing each year, often much faster than the total waste stream.
The solution has been to encourage the recycling of e-waste. If individuals and businesses bring their e-waste to a firm like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation, those items can be recycled, and the parts within them can be used to make new products.
Environmental groups are also hoping that the manufacturers of electronic goods get involved in that, and work to design cleaner, less toxic electronics with longer lifespans that are safe and easy to recycle.
Research is already pointing the way toward alternatives. In 2017, microbiologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst reported they’d discovered a new type of microbial nanowire produced by bacteria. They believe it will accelerate the development of sustainable “green” conducting materials that can be used by the electronics industry as alternatives to toxic chemicals.
As the researchers noted, unlike man-made materials, natural microbial nanowires can be mass-produced at room temperature from renewable feed stocks in bioreactors. They get a final product that is free of toxic components.
And, of course, there’s still the role to be played by anyone, from consumers to large corporations purchasing office equipment, that buys, uses and then eventually replaces their electronics.
Without a doubt, smartphones, PCs, and other electronics have changed the way people live — in remarkable ways. But in addition to the ways these devices have made our lives easier and opened up new opportunities for all of us, environmentalists also hope to keep raising awareness about the risks to the Earth’s resources from the growing amount of e-waste.
With Earth Day coming up, they plan to magnify the message that the manufacturers of these devices start making only green electronics that don’t contain toxic chemicals, and that can be recycled and then made again from the same recycled materials.
In the meantime, recycling remains the most effective way to keep e-waste from damaging our environment and our health.
Great Lakes Electronics Corporation has a great reputation for being trusted experts in the recycling and management of waste electronics and other metals. The unwanted equipment brought to Great Lakes is recycled in a responsible, environmentally conscious way, by this family-owned and operated business prides itself as being environmental stewards.