Where Does Our E-Waste Go?

Author:Suny Group

Old computer drives Electronic waste from equipment of all sizes includes dangerous chemicals like lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants. When we dispose of gadgets and devices improperly, these hazardous materials have a high risk of polluting the air, contaminating soil, and leaching into water sources.

Where Does Our E-Waste Go?

When e-waste sits in a typical landfill, for example, water flows through the landfill and picks up trace elements from these dangerous minerals. Eventually the contaminated landfill water, called “leachate,” gets through layers of natural and manufactured landfill liner and other protection. When it reaches natural groundwater, it introduces lethal toxicity.

Health risks range from kidney disease and brain damage to genetic mutations. Scientists have discovered that Guiyu, China, has the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world. Seven out of ten children in the villages of Guiyu have too much lead in their bodies; 82% tested positive for lead poisoning. Because the drinking water is so contaminated, villagers have to truck in water from other towns.

Even with the best intentions in mind, recycling e-waste often leads to illegal overseas shipping and dumping. Devices get left in a huge pit or burned. Worse, a 2008 study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that some recyclers ship e-waste to third world countries under the guise of philanthropy, claiming that these “donations” bring technology to developing nations. While plenty of recyclers run reputable operations, the shadowy companies just ship obsolete e-waste to digital dumping grounds in countries like Ghana.