How E-Waste Affects the Environment

With people replacing their electronics continually, it’s often wondered: where do all the old electronics go? Electronics that are thrown away and end up in waste management facilities are known as electronic waste, or e-waste for short. E-waste is responsible for many human and environmental issues. While electronics recycling programs exist, improper e-recycling contributes to more human and environmental issues than intended. The harmful effects of e-waste on the environment are through air, water, and soil pollution, as heavy metals and other contaminants enter these pathways.

Pollutes the Air

When e-waste is transported to different management centers, it is dismantled and shredded. This contributes to dust and particulates in the air that affect workers and local wildlife. Electronics that have little repair value are burned, but these electronics also contain different plastics and non-combustive materials. Excessive heavy metals can destroy plant and animal life, thus permanently altering ecosystems.

Ruins Water Sources

E-waste pollutes water sources through improperly designed landfills and improper recycling or disposal. The metals and chemicals leach into water sources and ruin them, making the water contaminated and undrinkable. These contaminants also contribute to acidification and toxification. Furthermore, heavy metals accumulate in water ecosystems to the point where restoration is impossible. They also accumulate in fish, where humans can ingest unhealthy amounts of heavy metals through these food sources.

Contaminates the Soil

As e-waste is improperly disposed, the heavy metals and chemicals leach down into the soil, contaminating the groundwater and ruining the soil quality. Coarse particles and bottom ash can also contaminate the soil. Once in the soil, these pollutants remain for a long time. Plants, animals, and humans are all exposed to the toxins in the soil, which can damage cell structure, alter metabolisms, and reduce growth. Similarly, children can ingest toxic soil particles from poor hygiene or having consumed foods where heavy metals have bio-accumulated, such as meat, eggs, and fish. This is harmful to their developing bodies. For example, lead alters nerve cells, lowers IQ, and can permanently destroy brain cells.

The Importance of Reducing E-Waste

While all of these are devastating environmental effects, there are ways to reduce your e-waste footprint. Consumers should purchase a new electronic device only when needed. Doing this instead of replacing your smartphone or other electronic device every year will greatly reduce the amount of e-waste in landfills. Additionally, you can repair electronics instead of replacing them entirely. This is especially true if your electronic device has a small issue or fixable issue. Today, there is a push to allow consumers to modify their own electronic goods. This will reduce the amount of electronics needed when simple modifications can suffice.