By Alec W, Franklin and Marshall College
The new iPhone is being released and you have nothing better to do but to camp outside the Apple Store so that you can be the first person to drop 600 dollars on the newest phone. After fighting your way through lines, pushing small children and slow-walking elderly people out of your way, you finally get your hands on the coveted iPhone. There is no need for your old phone so you throw it out, not realizing the lives that are also being thrown away due to your actions.
Americans alone produce about 3.4 million tons of e-waste every year, which is more than the combined weight of all blue whales. Only 40 percent of this waste is recycled, with the rest being shipped off to India, China, Ghana, and other developing countries.
India imports a lot of e-waste with 42 percent coming from the United States. The problem is that this e-waste is being disposed of by illegal workers, as opposed to authorized recyclers, because it is cheaper. These workers are exposing themselves and the environment to hazardous chemicals that can damage memory function, the reproductive system, the brain, and the central nervous system.
Because of your actions, people are dehumanized and reduced to the same level as trash.
Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “every human being has the inherent right to life. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” When improperly disposing of e-waste, the air, water, and soil are contaminated, causing health issues for those who live around these sites. Moreover, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights declares “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” but this is not attainable with toxic gas and harmful chemicals found in schools, markets, and other public places.
Americans take pride in their country’s strength and love to dictate what other countries should do. When it comes to human rights, however, if it is not occurring in our own backyards, we turn a blind eye and pretend like nothing is happening. We justify our actions saying things like “we cannot keep all our waste here” or “at least we are providing the poor with jobs in developing countries” so that we are not bothered by the violations that are occurring every day. Yes, it is true that the e-waste does provide jobs, but it also takes lives. The chemicals slowly destroy their bodies until they lose all traces of themselves, fading into nothingness like the abandoned electronics.
It is really easy to replace your phone, computer, and other devices, but the lost lives due to careless disposal of electronics can never be replaced.
Currently, Japan is setting a positive example for all nations by finding creative ways to use electronic waste. Since Tokyo is hosting the Olympics in 2020, they decided to use old electronic parts to make the medals that will be awarded. They are asking consumers to drop off old devices, hoping to collect about two tons of purified metal from millions of phones. This is a huge step in the right direction as recycling will be encouraged on a national platform.
Before throwing away your old electronics, contact companies like Best Buy, Gazelle, or even your cell phone carrier to see if they will recycle your device. Many times, they even offer cash incentives for recycling phone parts.
Making an impact does not have to be difficult. By simply recycling used devices, you have the power to save lives and stop the violation of human rights.
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