How E-waste Impacts Climate Change

E-waste disposal contributes to climate change due to the chemicals released when it is burned. Electronics contain materials like copper (Cu), aluminum (Al), and iron (Fe), and when burned these metals accumulate in the air.  Harmful chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) are the principal toxins released when electronics are burned. PBDEs are used as flame retardants in electronics, and during combustion release carbon dioxide (CO2). Collectively, these various chemicals – when burned for disposal – cause harm both to humans and the environment. According to a study conducted in the major e-waste recycling region of Guiyu, China, the concentration of PBDEs in the air was 21.5 ng/m,3 140 times higher than in Hong Kong for example. Mass emissions of PBDE, meanwhile, were between 82,207 and 188,118 tons/year. Such high concentrations pose a serious health risk to humans and wildlife. Toxins that seep into the soil and water are in turn accumulated by organisms, which over time negatively impact health.

The manufacture of electronics also releases large amounts of CO2. In another study it was found that, for every ton of CRT display products manufactured, 2.9 metric tons of carbon were released. When properly recycled, only 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are released.  Compared to traditional methods of disposal such as burning, recycling provides new alternatives to reduce emissions. Fortunately, there are already policies in place to help companies reduce their e-waste.

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