By Larraine Roulston:
E-waste, the accumulation of our electrical and battery-operated items, includes hairdryers, radios, toasters, computers, flat screens, scanners and telephones. An estimated 50 million tons of e-waste are produced each year – enough to fill a line of garbage trucks stretching halfway around the world. This overwhelming problem has resulted because of a large population eager to purchase the latest gadgets, ones that are not built to last and, in many cases, are either cheaper or easier to replace than repair.
In order to divert e-waste from landfills, where toxins will eventually leach into the soil and groundwater, most municipalities have e-waste deposit containers at their local recycling depot. As well, special collection days and locations encourage residents to discard these items responsibly. Much of it is shipped to developing countries, where their parts are salvaged.Unfortunately, their methods for extracting copper and gold are often crude and unsafe.
This summer the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has presented“What A Waste,” a weekly ½ hour radio program hosted by Dr. Torah Kachur every Friday at 11:30 am. The first segment of this 10-part summer series reported on our e-waste dilemma and how science can answer our need to redefine waste. Each week features scientists from around the world, local stories and an everyday“Waste Warrior” who is pushing the boundaries to repurpose his or her personal waste.
Regarding e-waste, Dr. Kachur interviewed a scientist about the discovery of a new microbe that separates toxins from gold and other metals, a biologist about how plants can minimize the negative impact of toxins, a recycling manager about how electrical components are stripped and sorted in order to recover precious metals, and an author whose book features simple how-to repairs for electronic items.
The local Waste Warrior kickstarted an e-waste collection event as a school fundraiser. The volunteers collected 23,000 lbs. of household e-waste worth $3000 to be put towards “re-greening” the school. Students and adults alike were amazed at the number of unused electrical gadgets and batteries that had been accumulating in their homes.
As “mindful momma” explains in her spring decluttering article, to discard your e-waste safely, check out Earth 911 for recycling opportunities. Manufacturers like Apple or Dell will take back their products. EcoATM has an e-waste drop-off kiosk in many malls. Collection boxes may be located at big box stores. And if you would like some cash, you can always post working electronics on eBay.
Even broken computers can open the world of invention and inspiration. The book 62 Projects To Make with a Dead Computer: and Other Discarded Electronics, by Randy Sarafan, offers instructions for designing a wire lantern, making a first aid kit out of a broken iPod, turning a dead mouse into a pencil sharpener,creating a gear clock, and many ways to indulge your artistic side with projects that turn computer scraps into sculptures and useful items.
Raising awareness about e-waste awareness is essential. Once we understand the full lifecycle of the items we use, we can take steps to recover what we otherwise thoughtlessly would discard.
Larraine Roulston authors the Pee Wee at Castle Compost series at www.castlecompost.com