Recent studies have proven promising, as they seem to indicate that most millennials would prefer to help the environment by protecting it instead of doing whatever it takes to become financially successful. In regards to e-waste, which stands for electronic waste, the need to act has never been as crucial as it is today, as e-waste is one of the most harmful forms of waste on the planet.
In fact, in just two years between 2014 and 2016, the amount of global e-waste rose 7%, from 41.8 million metric tons to 44.7 million metric tons. That amount is expected to increase to 52.2 million metric tons by the year 2021, according to a study recently published by the United Nations.
E-waste is a severe problem that governing bodies, companies, and consumers must not underestimate, as global warming is a genuine threat that will become worse with time. Here, we will focus on the environmental benefits of recycling, particularly the recycling of electronic waste.
Reducing the Use of Virgin Materials
Urban mining is a form of recycling that can help reduce the amount of energy that is expended. It consists of reclaiming raw materials, such as electronic waste. In addition, urban mining is a form of recycling that is far more profitable than mining virgin materials from the earth. The transport of raw virgin materials also expends copious amounts of energy, as does the manufacturing of raw virgin materials.
Recycling e-waste will drastically reduce the amount of energy required, as extracting brand new commodities will require a significant amount of time, money, and energy that could be spent elsewhere.
Copper and aluminum are materials that are commonly recycled in North America, as the savings generated from the recycling of copper and aluminum are immense when compared to the costs expended in extracting raw virgin material.
Recycling aluminum in particular only expends roughly 5% of the energy that is required to manufacture raw aluminum, and the global aluminum recycling industry prevented nearly 170 million tons of deadly gases, such as greenhouse gases, from entering the atmosphere, on an annual basis. Scrap copper also has many benefits, as recycled copper is worth approximately 90% of the price of ore that is newly extracted from the earth.
Reduce Toxic Materials from Waste
E-waste generates a plethora of deadly toxins, with lead being the most common toxic material that is generated from many e-waste products. Many circuit boards contain heavy metals, while most batteries contain lithium and cadmium that can leak out if they are not disposed of safely and ethically.
In addition, most LCD screens contain mercury, while cathode ray TV tubes are made with leaded glass that can severely harm the environment if not disposed of correctly.
Many steps must be taken to reduce the amount of chromium, lead, mercury, cadmium, and other deadly materials from permeating the waste stream. Mercury is commonly found in compact fluorescent lights and is a neurotoxin that can kill in mere minutes, with many other older electronic products containing similar materials.
What’s more, many materials that are not recycled will also end up in landfills, where they will rot in perpetuity, with many of their toxic waste products eventually reaching groundwater. Furthermore, the recycling process must be thorough and must only be performed by a responsible recycling agency that is also fully certified by the applicable regulatory agencies.
Some lackadaisical or unscrupulous recycling plants may perform rudimentary recycling of e-waste, by extracting hazardous compounds during the initial recycling phase. However, those same companies will often incinerate the heavy metals that they extract, which will release them into the open air as well as into bodies of water that are close to the plant.
Unfortunately, many first world countries will send much of their e-waste to third world countries, in order to save money, or because they don’t want to put in the effort themselves. As a result, most of the e-waste that is sent to third world countries is improperly recycled or disposed of, as most third world countries do not enforce any regulations for environmental or human safety.
Help Recover Valuable Resources
There are also other environmental benefits of recycling, such as the recovery of valuable natural resources. A study conducted by the University of the United Nations found that companies had to move a metric ton of ore in order to mine a single gram of gold. However, by recycling e-waste those same companies could extract the same amount of gold from roughly 40 used mobile phones.
Ergo, many rare earth metals can be found in many common electronic devices, such as phones, tablets, and computers. There are also many geopolitical conflicts and warfare that can be avoided, or at least reduced, by recycling e-waste, as many countries will engage in wars to mine rare metals and minerals from the earth.
In fact, some countries will use conflict resources, which are essentially natural resources that are taken from designated conflict zones, to perpetuate wars by selling them to the highest bidder. Many rare earth metals also possess conductive and magnetic properties that are used to make military weaponry.
Recycling e-waste can reduce many geopolitical conflicts, and is also far less environmentally hazardous, and far more economically advantageous, over extracting raw materials and minerals from the earth itself.
If you would like to learn more about the environmental benefits of recycling, call eCycle at 1-877-215-5255 or contact us here.