We often pay attention to how we deal with biological waste. But how do you get rid of your broken phones, tablets, batteries, calculators, TVs, and old PCs? All of these gadgets are electronic waste, also known as e-waste.
Electronic waste adds a significant amount of electronic plastics, nanoparticles and heavy metals like lead and mercury to the environment.
You may not have paid attention to the dangers of e-waste in the past. But here are some of its ill effects, and they are even scarier than you might think.
1. Electronic waste disrupts the microbiota of plant roots
Although there are millions if not billions of microorganisms in the environment, only a few of them threaten human, animal and plant health. The majority of them are either harmless or beneficial in some way.
A notable role of beneficial microorganisms in the soil is that they help with nutrient cycling. They do this through a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, where they fix nitrogen, break down manure, prevent root diseases, and make food readily available for plant growth.
However, beneficial root microbes can die if the soil contains toxic chemicals resulting from the incessant disposal of electronic waste.
In addition to being toxic to beneficial microbes, when found in plant tissue, heavy metals and electrical components such as lead, mercury, selenium, copper and nanoparticles in electronic waste are directly hazardous to plant health. They do this by disrupting the microbial balance in nature, killing them, and disrupting the nutrient cycle to plants.
Thus, stunted growth, lack of essential nutrients, and plant poisoning are all attributes of e-waste landfills and environments around them. Invariably, whether instantaneously or later, this event contributes to poor atmospheric air circulation and soil sterility.
2. Electronic waste disrupts the food chain
As plant roots become imbalanced and beneficial soil microorganisms decline, other organisms such as earthworms that live there can starve to death. Alternatively, they might even suffer from dehydration due to poor water retention in the soil, which is typical of a soil devoid of beneficial microbes.
Likewise, as the plant community suffers from exhaustion due to e-waste poisoning and poor nutrient cycling, animals that depend on them for food could starve as well. Thus, carnivores could lose most of their food supply due to death or possible migration.
3. Electronic waste contaminates ground and surface water
Electronic waste doesn’t often stay where you throw it away. Metal parts and the resulting nanoparticles can also scrape and end up in bodies of water.
Essentially, erosion and flooding can wash away metals and nanoparticles from e-waste into surrounding water bodies. In addition, heavy metals can sink deep into the soil and contaminate groundwater. Invariably, this groundwater also washes away in larger bodies of water.
A more worrying scenario is where the metals associated with electronic waste dissolve in water and mix with it. Even if you don’t drink direct surface water, you damage the aquatic system when you throw e-waste into the environment.
Ultimately, e-waste can contribute to low fish yield and poisoning of aquatic plants resulting from high concentration of heavy metals and oxygen depletion in the water.
4. Bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals in organs
Lead and mercury poisonings are among the most feared health problems in the world today. Although the fuel efficiency of modern vehicles keeps these substances away, the amount that accumulates in the human body due to mismanagement of electronic waste is not negligible.
Bioaccumulation begins when plants absorb these toxic chemicals into their tissues. And when they are in bodies of water, fish can ingest a significant amount of lead in their tissues.
Invariably, animals and humans who eat such plants or fish receive a share of these toxic chemicals. And these build up over time until there is enough to poison vital organs, including the kidneys and liver.
5. Electronic waste can contribute to the development of cancer and other terminal illnesses
Poisoning of vital body organs can lead to many underlying conditions and terminal illnesses.
However, long-term exposure to electronic waste not only affects adults, but poses a significant risk to the health of newborns. They are even more at risk because they have a more vulnerable immune system.
Exposure to electronic waste has unfortunately resulted in stillbirths in some reported cases. Lead poisoning, for example, can also cause permanent deafness in children.
Additionally, the World Health Organization has warned that exposure to electronic waste can lead to DNA disruption, thyroid dysfunction, lung disease, and terminal conditions like cancer and heart problems.
6. People smuggle and recycle electronic waste in an unethical way
As the need for electrical raw materials like lead and copper grows, people who want to make some extra cash from them sometimes go so far as to collect them from electronic waste landfills.
According to the WHO, such practices can expose those involved to more than a thousand deadly chemicals, including heavy metals. This is common in most middle- and low-income countries, where people smuggle and recycle e-waste for cash.
While this may seem like a promising way to remove electronic waste from the environment, most of these recoveries are unethical and virtually unsafe. And in the event that they recycle them, a large deposition load of heavy metals and nanoparticles in the lungs is often unavoidable.
7. Disposal of electronic waste threatens data security
Data security is as important to individuals as it is to businesses.
While you may have scrapped your damaged computer, hard drive, or smartphone, you can’t tell who might be sniffing.
Whether it’s personal, business or publicly available, you store a lot of information on your devices. Throwing them away immediately after they have been spoiled is not the best practice for data security.
Even if you think you’ve cleaned it up, residual but sensitive data can still be lurking. So someone with an ulterior motive could steal your information.
Therefore, to avoid losing sensitive information during electronic disposal, you should consider taking it to environmentally certified recycling companies, where your data is safer.
What you should do with e-waste instead
Not paying attention to electronic waste is one of the factors that blocks the human struggle against environmental degradation, global warming, terminal diseases and species extinction.
Considering the risk of electronic waste in the environment, it is necessary to reduce it so that it does not continue to wreak havoc. Therefore, consider recycling your electronic waste in a certified recycling industry. You can turn it into other valuable household tools as well.
Electronic waste has a huge impact on the environment. Instead of throwing away the old technology, what can you do to make things better?
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