It’s strange how we are so connected, almost emotionally, to our electronics these days because we depend on them so much. But then comes that inevitable day when the gadgets fizzle out or we faze them out because some newer shinier object prances onto the market that we are made to believe is better. But then what? When someone throws away electronic products, they become e-waste- a term that refers to discarded computers, mobile phones, TVs etc. E-waste poses a great threat to our environment and to the people that have to break down the refuse.
As the western world ships these unwanted materials to developing countries in Africa and Asia, it hands over responsibility for its own problems to governments who hardly have the capacity to effectively and safely dispose of it all. Once e-waste arrives (often illegally) in those countries, chemicals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and flame retardants leach into the ground water, thus irreparably polluting a natural resource so that it can never be used again. When e-waste is incinerated, those chemicals fill the air with so many toxins that anyone who lives nearby is at risk of health problems, especially cancer. While recycling plants in developed countries carefully control the breakdown of e-waste, facilities in the third world offer no protection to child laborers who expose themselves to hazardous chemicals as they pick through piles of the western world’s unwanted electronics in order to find re-usable materials. Click to see a great resource from Greenpeace that maps out the effects of e-waste around the globe.
What you can do to combat the harmful effects of e-waste:
1. Donate your old computers to an organization like Computer Aid International which stringently tests 100% of donations for quality before giving them to not-for-profit organizations in the developing world.
2. Invest in high-quality electronics that do not need to be replaced soon after they are purchased.
Unless you plan on keeping your Christmas decorations up for 361 more days until the holiday rolls around again, the tree’s got to go somewhere. Last year, Americans spent $1 billion on a total of 28.2 million real Christmas trees. If you want to see all that money put to good use and are already wondering where to put your living room-dwelling greenery, I ask you to consider recycling or reusing those trees.
Christmas trees or Hannukah bushes can be used for mulch or woodchips. Gardeners and landscapers need mulch to nourish plantings in both urban and rural settings because it controls weed growth, thus reducing the need for toxic herbicides. Woodchips can be used for hiking paths or on playgrounds. According to Earth 911, “Christmas trees have also been used for erosion control, soil stabilization and shoreline maintenance. When used in this manner, the trees not only stabilize the soil, but also provide habitats for fish, birds, amphibians and mammals.”
To find places that recycle Christmas trees, you go can go to this site to look up a tree recycling center near you. Just type your zip code into the green search bar at the top of the page and a few locations should pop up (in my area there were 17 within 10 miles of me.) There are lots of reasons to be green this holiday season and even more free and easy ways to do it.