A good way to understand e-waste is in terms of cell phones.
Every year, the world produces 1.4 billion phones. Stacked up, these new phones would higher than the International Space Station. The average American replaces their phone every two years.
Here’s the thing: the old phones they replace don’t disappear. In fact, they likely end up contributing to a growing threat: e-waste. That’s the vast global stream of old cell phones, TVs, computers, tablets and pretty much anything else that can connect to the internet.
EarthFix has been investigating the global pathway of dead electronics — some of which end up in unregulated recycling facilities, where workers and the environment are exposed to hazardous metals and chemicals.
Inside every cell phone is potential.
There’s a potential profit. A cell phone circuit board has 40-800 times the gold, by weight, as gold ore. But there’s also potential danger. E-waste is the fastest growing source of waste on the planet and the biggest source of toxic metals in landfills.
The U.S. is the largest producer of e-waste. In half of all U.S. states, you can just dump e-waste in a landfill. There are no federal laws to regulate what happens to it.
But it’s not just an American problem. Some of it gets shipped to other countries, like China, with fewer health and safety laws. It poses a risk to the people who recycle as well as the air and water around them.