I’m betting Santa was pretty good to many kids across the country, leaving new electronics like iPads, cellphones, televisions, and computers under their trees, but does Santa realize his generosity is causing an e-waste problem?

A new report out by Solving The E-Waste Problem Initiative (STEP) illustrates the growing problem of discarding old electronics and the multitude of impacts it has on the environment, humans and future resources.

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The report expects worldwide e-waste to grow by 33 percent from 50 million tons in 2012 to 65 million tons by 2017. China and the U.S.  lead the world as top producers of e-waste, with China producing 12.2 million tons and the U.S. at 11 million tons. However, America produces about 65 pounds of e-waste per person every year, which is more than the 11 pounds per person China produces.

With all this e-waste comes some serious issues. Most of the waste is transported to poorer countries in Africa and Asia illegally or under false documentation resulting in harm to the environment and local populations. The precious metals and rare-earth minerals used in many electronic devices are not only exposing unprotected local populations to illness but will eventually result in a shortage of these resources in the future if recycling efforts are not increased.

In the U.S. alone, 120 million mobile phones were purchased in 2011, but only 12 million were collected for recycling. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study suggests that only 66 percent of computers, monitors, TVs, and mobile phones were recycled in 2010.

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The executive secretary of STEP explains, “The explosion is happening because there’s so much technical innovation. TVs, mobile phones and computers are all being more and more quickly. The lifetime of products is also shortening.”

There was once a day when a new TV would last you years and, it was only a short while ago, that a new cell phone would last you past two years, but now these devices either breakdown or we discard them for the new shiny versions of what we already have.

Yes, e-waste will be a part of our growing electronic-based world but our own need to discard perfectly good electronics for the latest device releases needs to be reexamined, especially when what we have still works!

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Through initiatives like STEP, we are beginning to pay more attention to the issue of e-waste and its tremendous impact across the globe. What we need to do now is further study where and how e-waste is being transported across the globe and translate that into information for the public to understand. Ultimately, to even come close to a solution or responsible management of e-waste, we need to establish regulations and raise public awareness in addition to increasing recycling efforts.

The good thing about the lack of management or awareness when it comes to e-waste is the fact that it means a lot can be done. From changing the production of the devices to our consumer habits and our recycling efforts, the issues associated with e-waste can be cured.

So next time you go to throw out one device for the shiny new computer or cell phone, take a moment to consider where you should throw out your old device and whether or not you really need a new one. Changing an issue like e-waste starts with individuals right at home.

What You Can Do

  • Urge your representatives to support proposed bills like H.R.2791- Responsible Electronics Recycling Act which would restrict the transport of electronic waste to countries that are members of  OECD and the EU (versus poorer nations) while also giving the EPA the ability to produce procedures in identifying hazards of e-waste, and finally establishing criminal penalties.
  • When you do have to get rid of electronic devices, search E-Cycling Central to find an electronic waste recycling plant in your state.
  • Check out the EPA webpage on what electronics can be recycled and which ones can be donated.
  • Instead of throwing away your old phone or placing it in the junk draw, donate it to a good cause like Cell Phones for Soldiers or National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
  • Limit the amount of electronics you buy and the frequency at which you buy them.

Image Source: Curtis Palmer/Flickr