What is Done with Discarded Computers?

Posted in Digital Data, laptop, mobile app, Tech news  by Carol
April 27th, 2016

disc comp bWhen it comes to technology, planned obsolescence has been the name of the game for over a decade. Cell phones, laptops, desktop computers and even wearable processors like Fitbits are not meant to last forever; they’re meant to hit the market in pre-planned iterations. When a new version of a particular model comes out, it’s normal for manufacturers to have engineered them with the sales for future versions in mind; that means it’s good if that version breaks in time for a new sales quarter.

So where does discarded technology go after it’s disposed of? What is it about electronic waste that makes it so important to sort it and keep it from normal landfills? What is done to adjust for the disposal needs specific to electronics? Read on to find out.

The major disposal issue that old electronics present is rooted in the elements of which they are created. A typical personal computer (which contains many circuit boards) may contain up to eight pounds of lead, along with lower but significant levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, and other toxic materials. Electronics also tend to use some member of a common but poisonous family of flame-retardant chemicals. All these materials are all toxic at varying exposure levels (though there is no safe level at which a person can be exposed to lead). They can cause major health problems, and in some cases death, in the event of a severe enough exposure.

disc comp1If all of these materials were to collect in a landfill, it’s not hard to understand how damage to human health could ensue. Unfortunately, no imagining is truly necessary; studies have found that in America, e-waste accounts for anywhere up to four percent of the total trash. That’s an extremely significant number, especially because e-waste is so heavy in lead. Given that four percent trash rate, e-waste becomes responsible for forty percent of the lead found in landfills. It accounts for whopping seventy percent of the other heavy and poisonous metals in landfills.

Luckily, most landfills are purposefully placed in locations where the soil and water contamination of the surrounding area can be contained and kept away from crops and water used by communities. Still, just the presence of that much hazardous waste on the surface of the ground can create problems.

This all seems to be a rather strong argument for the proper disposal of e-waste at locations meant to handle such strong and poisonous materials. Unfortunately, the sad fact remains that many so-called recycling centers in the United States and abroad are more of collection points than entities that have the intention of properly disposing of hazardous chemicals. E-waste is often sold to scrap brokers, who then ship the cargo to developing nations for deconstruction.

disc compDeconstruction entails the extremely chemically dangerous process of laborers smashing devices and harvesting them for their core components. Often the process by which the devices are opened causes toxic chemicals to be released in large amounts.

Luckily, many computer manufacturers are starting to make computers with fewer hazardous materials in them in the first place. However, this will not be enough to alleviate the problems caused by non-properly-disposed e-waste; major legislative change on a global level will have to happen.

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