As consumers we must deal responsibly with electronic waste
LatinAmerican Post | Luis Angel Hernández Liborio
We have all discarded an electronic device at some point in our lives, from batteries to screens, printers, cell phones or refrigerators. Have you ever wondered what happens to that garbage or if you have put it in the right place? Probably yes, however, Latin America is still far from having solved the problem of electronic waste that affects the environment.
The management of electronic waste in Latin America is deficient
According to the UN, the management of electronic waste in the region is deficient, barely 3% of what is produced is recycled or recovered in the correct way. To put it in perspective, 13 countries in Latin America produced 1.3 million tons of electronic waste in 2019. So less than 40 thousand tons were recovered among the 13 countries, a low figure compared to the size of the waste. The agency also highlights that the world average is 17.4% recovery, almost 6 times the figure for Latin America.
It should be noted that the UN study does not include Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, so the figures should be even higher than those indicated. The legislation of the different countries is still far from being sufficient to manage waste, both for the protection of the environment and for the health of the population against toxic waste contained in electronic waste. It is also worth noting the economic importance of this waste, in the electronic waste of the 13 countries studied there are approximately 7 tons of gold, equivalent to half of the metal reserves held by Colombia or Chile.
What's in e-waste?
By their nature, electronic products contain different amounts of plastics, metals, toxic chemicals, glass, among other elements. Some of them can be recycled and/or recovered, including plastics and metals such as gold or aluminum, however, others are toxic waste that requires specific and mandatory management to keep the environment protected. Among the toxic substances that can be found are lead, mercury, lithium, cadmium, and BFRs, all of which can end up in the water, on arable land or where animal and plant species live that could be irreversibly damaged. According to the Center for Electrical Training and Alternative Energies, among the harms to people are blindness, kidney damage, and cancer.
How to correctly manage my electronic waste?
Beyond pointing out the problem of electronic waste in the region, it is even more important that the consumer is part of the correct management of this waste, that is, being part of the solution. It is a shared responsibility between governments, companies and consumers so that waste is managed correctly. In a world in which technology occupies an increasingly important place, the increase in electronic waste will be unavoidable, so its management is a clear necessity. An example is the batteries that will be disposed of by the automotive industry that is transitioning to electric cars.
As a consumer, the first thing you can do is not to dispose of your waste in conventional containers for organic or inorganic waste. You have three options for responsible management: the first is to put them in special containers for it. Of course, in each country the location, proximity, and number of them are different, but surely there is one in your city. Shopping centers, schools, electronics stores, and government offices are the places where you are most likely to find these containers.
The second option is to take them to specialized centers for electronic waste management, there they will give you the correct management that includes separating the different elements destined for recycling, in the case of those that are harmful, putting them in places where they do not represent a danger to the environment or to people. Also, these centers are usually the point of arrival for the garbage that is taken to the containers.
The third option is government collection campaigns, companies, or civil organizations aimed at creating awareness about the danger that electronic waste represents to the environment. There you can leave your broken cell phones, batteries, screens, washing machines or any other object that you want to dispose of properly, the three options are useful, however the latter is usually itinerant so you must be aware of the dates and places in which they will be collected. Finally, to treat the root problem, reduce your consumption of electronic products by using, for example, batteries and rechargeable devices, or avoid purchasing the most recent version of your smartphone every year if the one you have is still functional.