In the Western world, we all use computers and cell phones every day – to browse the internet, chat with friends, get work done, and more. These devices are part of our lives in the twenty-first century.
What we rarely see is the inside of these devices, or how they are manufactured. Computers contain many small parts which can do a lot of damage if they are discarded in a landfill.
Because cell phones and computers are built to last, generally from metals and hard plastics, these items will not biodegrade, but will stay around for a long time. Are these plastics and chemicals a potential health risk?
Assault and Battery
It’s common knowledge that you shouldn’t throw out batteries. Most batteries contain lead and battery acid, which can be very dangerous if they are allowed to leach into the earth or into groundwater.
Computers have moved beyond the lead-acid combination. Most computer batteries are lithium-ion, a lighter and more efficient type of battery.
Just because they are newer, though, does not mean they are safer. Lithium-ion batteries contain a chemical that is flammable with high heat or pressure. These batteries need to be properly disposed of, something that many computer manufacturers are happy to do for you.
Feel The Burn
Much of the US’s e-waste ends up in third-world countries, where enterprising locals strip the electronics of any components that might be valuable. There is a lot of money in this – certain parts used for computers are very rare and in high demand, meaning companies will pay a lot for them, regardless of where they’re coming from.
Parts that are not used are buried or burned, releasing clouds of harmful chemicals into the air and allowing more to seep into the ground. Time reports that levels of “iron, magnesium, copper, zinc, cadmium, chromium, nickel and lead — were up to 50 times higher than in uncontaminated areas”.
This contamination comes with many health risks, birth defects and cancer among them. And when these chemicals are released into the air and ground, they do not stay isolated in the place where they were released – contaminated water spreads and travels.
Many people are asking whether companies should take responsibility for disposal of their devices. After all, if a person buys a computer from Apple, why should the computer become Apple’s responsibility again once it breaks?
Because of the high risk associated with these contaminants, companies that sell electronics, and thus are putting thousands of these potentially harmful items onto the market every day, should have some method of safely recycling them.
Many companies who deal in electronics already have some type of e-waste recycling program, but often, consumers are not aware of the options that exist. If you have a computer that you plan on replacing soon, dispose of it properly. You will be keeping yourself and our future safe.