A tsunami of electronic garbage, this is the description recently launched by an international forum on the volume of waste resulting from the remains of electronic and electrical devices, such as mobile phones, televisions, desktop and tablet computers, and household appliances of various kinds.
In order to realize the size of this steadily increasing tsunami, according to an organization known as the International Partnership for Electronic Garbage Statistics (Global E-waste Statistics Partnership), the global production of electronic waste (E-waste) increased by 21% during the past five years, to reach 53 million tons. To approximate the picture, this size is equivalent to the size of 350 large cruise passenger ships, which if stacked one after the other in one line, the length of this line would reach 125 kilometers. It is expected that the pace of e-waste production will accelerate, in light of the increasing use of electronic devices in our daily lives, and the shorter cycle of updating them with new models, which requires buying the latest ones, and getting rid of old models, some of which may be no more than two years old or less.
In light of the fact that only 17% of this e-waste is properly managed and recycled in specialized centers, the vast majority of it, 83%, finds its way to landfills, often through illegal routes to the lands of poor and developing countries.
This waste poses a serious environmental and health danger, because it contains a number of toxic heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, nickel, and a variety of other highly toxic chemicals, numbering more than a thousand. On the environmental level, in addition to the negative consequences of high concentrations of these minerals and substances on wildlife, they also find their way into the soil, freshwater streams, and groundwater reservoirs, on which a significant proportion of human societies depend in agriculture and meet their drinking water needs.
To make matters worse, more than 12 million women, many of whom are pregnant, work in illegal recycling sites in developing and poor countries, for the purpose of extracting precious metals from electronic waste, exposing their fetuses in their stomachs to these toxic substances. Millions of teenagers and children also work in this industry, a significant proportion of them under the age of five, which is the age at which their organs grow rapidly, making them more vulnerable to the negative effects of toxic substances found in e-waste. All of these factors together make e-waste an international public health issue that leaves its mark on the health of a large part of future generations, and puts basically worn-out health care systems in front of a challenge whose size and consequences are increasing over time.