Environmental Health Promotion
This mini-blog series is part two of the “Environmental Health Promotion” project, which deals with global health challenges that are harmful to both the environment and people’s well-being. Its main goal is to raise public awareness about how we can take care of the environment and improve global health. It also offers ways for individuals to protect themselves from these issues. In the first part of the report, we looked at five global health concerns: Antibiotic Resistance, PFAS, Vaccines and Immunization, Microplastics, and Mycotoxins. This next section will explore E-Waste, Formaldehyde, Triclosan, Bisphenol A, and Phthalates. These concerns will be explained in detail, including what the problem is and what individuals can do to help solve it. Since there is only one planet Earth, all of us need to take action. By getting involved, each of us can play a part in preserving the health of our planet, ensuring that future generations can enjoy the same quality of life that we do.
You can find the other blogs related to the second report here:
In today’s tech-driven world, the demand for electronic gadgets, such as laptops and mobile phones has reached unprecedented levels, leading to a concerning issue: electronic waste, or e-waste. The speed at which this particular kind of waste is growing outpaces all other waste categories. This is mainly because of our insatiable desire for the latest and most cutting-edge gadgets available in the market. However, even with the convenience and technological advancements it provides, the electronics industry has acquired a reputation for its environmental impact. The manufacturing and disposal of electronic products play a substantial role in energy consumption and carbon emissions, presenting significant environmental challenges.
E-waste encompasses a wide range of discarded electronic devices, from smartphones and laptops to televisions and other gadgets. What makes e-waste particularly worrisome is that many of these devices contain hazardous substances, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic. Even smaller household appliances like microwaves, vacuum cleaners, and kettles fall into the e-waste category. Essentially, any electronic equipment that is no longer needed, functional, or has become outdated adds to this growing concern. The challenge we face is finding sustainable ways to manage and reduce the impact of e-waste on our environment.
Based on a recent report, more than 50 million metric tons of e-waste are generated globally each year, averaging around seven kilograms of e-waste per person. In 2019, Asia led the world in e-waste production, accounting for 46.4% of the total, followed by the Americas (24.4%), Europe (22.4%), Africa (5.4%), and Oceania (1.3%). It is worth noting that even though Asia produced the most e-waste by volume among the continents, the per capita waste generation was considerably lower (5.6 kg/inh) compared to Europe (16.2 kg/inh), Oceania (16.1 kg/inh), and the Americas (13.3 kg/inh), mainly due to Asia’s large population of 4.40 billion.
How serious is the problem?
Recycling methods for e-waste, including open burning, metal acid stripping, acid baths, and incineration, have been found to generate by-products, such as heavy metals, furans, and dioxins. This has turned e-waste management into one of the most urgent global challenges of the 21st century, posing significant risks to both human health and the environment. Exposure to e-waste can particularly harm children and expectant mothers, especially during crucial developmental phases that affect various biological systems and organs. Numerous studies have connected higher levels of toxic chemicals in populations exposed to e-waste with adverse effects on newborn growth indicators and changes in hormone levels.
Among the dangerous materials found in e-waste are lead, cadmium, and mercury, all of which can be unleashed into the environment if electronic waste is not disposed of or recycled correctly. This contamination is not limited to a single facet; it extends to the air we breathe, the soil where we grow our crops, and the sources of our water. It can lead to various health issues, including breathing problems, serious nerve damage, and, in the worst cases, even cancer. This emphasizes the critical need to handle e-waste with great care and responsibility, making sure we use safe methods for disposal and recycling to safeguard both people’s health and our environment.
Of great concern is the prevalence of this issue in developing nations, where informal recycling practices are often the norm. In these regions, individuals, including workers and residents, frequently come into contact with the toxic chemicals and heavy metals present in e-waste, often without access to the necessary protective gear. This chronic exposure can result in serious health complications, including damage to the lungs, kidneys, and reproductive organs. Therefore, taking a comprehensive approach to tackle the e-waste issue involves not just enhancing worldwide e-waste management techniques, but also establishing measures to protect the health and welfare of individuals directly engaged in e-waste handling in developing nations.
What can I do?
Harvard University offers valuable suggestions for effectively reducing e-waste:
- Carefully evaluate whether you truly need a new electronic gadget before making a purchase. Instead of acquiring multiple devices, explore options that combine multiple functions into one.
- To prolong the lifespan of your electronics, consider investing in a protective case, maintaining regular cleaning of your device, and avoiding overcharging the battery.
- When shopping for electronics, opt for environmentally friendly choices labeled with certifications like Energy Star or Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).
- Consider donating used electronics to support various causes such as aiding victims of domestic violence, promoting child safety initiatives, or contributing to environmental programs.
- Ensure responsible disposal by recycling electronics and batteries in designated e-waste recycling bins.
Author: Fion Chan*
Edited by: Jasmine Therese Arcilla
*Fion is SOGH’s Environmental Sustainability Manager. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and is pursuing a Master of Medical Science in Global Health at the University of Gothenburg.