The Dangers of E-Waste
Updated: Jul 7
Though our lives are becoming increasingly electric, the waste that accompanies such a charged lifestyle has some serious implications.
America is a harbor of electronic devices.
Whether we’re whipping together a smoothie in a blender for breakfast, punching the keys of a calculator in math class, or even reading by a lamp before bed, every facet of our lives is made more efficient by devices that run on some form of power. Such gadgets are the reason why we can have entire conversations using even the smallest of watches or take increasingly clear photos from the comfort of our cell phones. They’re the reason why we can navigate even the most obscure paths while on a road trip or total all of our expenses with just a click of a button. With so many incredible innovations right at our fingertips, it almost seems trivial to question their consequences.
But you know me. I always question the consequences.
With an abundance of devices comes an abundance of waste. The second a new flat-screen TV hits the market, we forget about the one we have and yank our wallets from our drawers. The second our shredder makes a strange sound, we toss it and replace it with a shiny new one. The second the apps on our iPhones take slightly longer to load, we rush to stores to find a speedy alternative. But what exactly happens to all of these discarded devices? Though some are recycled for their parts in designated facilities, most are sent abroad or improperly dumped in landfills, where they slowly but surely become our worst enemies.
It may surprise you to learn that your potential to minimize the dangers of e-waste is far greater that it seems. In this poem, I explore the challenges of e-waste, as well as the ways in which we all can limit them — one device at a time.
From printers to phones to desktops to drones,
We toss old devices with a feverish haste.
But gadgets, big and small, do much to appall,
Especially once they become e-waste.
E-waste refers to electrical or electronic equipment
That requires some form of a charge.
But when trashed without second thought, more often than not,
The extent of its damage is large.
You see, these devices are brimming with toxic metals,
Whether they be chromium or nickel or lead.
But when within an ecosystem’s reach, these metals can leach,
Leaving the surrounding life as we know it for dead.
A quarter of our e-waste is shipped to developing lands,
Where it’s recycled by workers with little monetary wealth.
But due to unenforced laws, this practice comes with its flaws
That threaten both the environment and human health.
Harvesting precious metals from machines without protective gear
Puts such workers at risk of becoming ill.
From brain damage to cancer, this shall not be the answer,
As the effects are irreversible, and can even kill.
You now may be wondering, just what can you do
To prevent this problem from continuing to spread?
For starters, even once your devices crash, keep them far from the trash,
And deliver them to a facility that safely recycles them instead.
Yet another option is to donate old electronics
To those who are most in need.
By extending their life, you can avoid any unwanted strife,
While also doing a good deed.
But perhaps the best option is to avoid flocking to stores
Every time a new trinket catches your eye.
By fully using what you own rather than leaving it to be thrown,
You can ultimately reduce the number of gadgets in supply.
Without fail, Americans contribute greatly to e-waste,
Generating millions of tons each year.
But by treating our devices with care, we can become more aware,
And avoid outcomes that are terribly severe.
“Cleaning Up Electronic Waste (E-Waste).” EPA. United States Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/cleaning-electronic-waste-e-waste. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.
“Basic Information about Electronics Stewardship.” EPA. United States Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/smm-electronics/basic-information-about-electronics-stewardship#02. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.
“What is e-waste?” StEP. StEP Initiative, https://www.step-initiative.org/e-waste-challenge.html. Accessed 3 Jan. 2022.