The surprising link between Recycling E-waste and U.S. National Security
It’s no secret that e-waste is a serious problem. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that only about 12.5% of electronic waste is recycled—the rest ends up in landfills across the country. Even though e-waste only accounts for about 2% of the trash in landfills, it accounts for about 70% of the total toxic trash.
Once in a landfill, the toxic chemicals in e-waste can start to contaminate the groundwater and atmosphere. When people are exposed to these toxic chemicals—either by breathing in contaminated air or drinking contaminated water—their health could seriously suffer. To keep this from happening, electronic waste needs to be recycled so it can be disposed of in a safe manner.
But, keeping the environment free from hazardous substances is not the only benefit of recycling e-waste. There is also a surprising link between recycling e-waste responsibly and U.S national security that many people don’t know about.
Forbes recently published an article that discussed how investing in e-waste recycling programs could keep Americans safer by improving our national defense system. Here’s what you need to know about how e-waste recycling programs could affect our national security:
The Counterfeit Problem Men and women in the military rely on sophisticated equipment to perform their job duties and keep them safe. Many pieces of equipment used by men and women in service are electronic, including night vision goggles, GPS systems, and radios.
If any piece of equipment that these military men and women rely on begins to malfunction, it could lead to tragedy. But unfortunately, the armed forces are often sold counterfeit electronics that are much more likely to malfunction when service members need them the most.
In fact, an investigation conducted in 2009 and 2010 uncovered 1,800 cases of counterfeit electronic parts in the national defense system. Where were these counterfeit parts when they were discovered? Some of the 1,800 counterfeit parts were found on military helicopters, display units on military cargo planes, and on Navy airplanes. Nearly 70% of the counterfeit electronic parts discovered in this investigation originated in China. If these parts had not been discovered, there’s no telling when they would have malfunctioned.
The Relationship between Recycling E-Waste and National Security How is e-waste recycling connected to the problem with counterfeit electronic parts? To connect the dots, it’s important to understand how many so-called e-waste recyclers process electronic waste. Many e-waste recyclers ship e-waste overseas to countries such as China, India, and Pakistan instead of processing it domestically.
Once it arrives in these countries, the e-waste is dumped on sidewalks and in dump sites so it can be sorted by hand. After it has been sorted, the e-waste is then shipped to facilities that process the e-waste components to make them look new again. For instance, these facilities often sand down the components in order to remove serial numbers that could be used to trace the part’s origin. Sanding down electronic components does more than simply remove identifying information—it also weakens the part and makes it more likely to fail.
Once all of this identifying information has been removed, the parts are then used to create electronic devices that are sold to the military and private buyers as “new” even though they are made with recycled and heavily processed parts. By the time they reach the military, these counterfeit electronic components have been shipped across the world, sorted in an unregulated facility, and then heavily processed, so they are not nearly as reliable as new parts would be.
How Can This Problem Be Prevented? The best way to prevent this problem is to stop the flow of e-waste to other countries where disposing of this waste is not heavily regulated. Some e-waste recycling facilities are not very open and honest about what happens to the waste they collect from customers. If an e-waste recycling company is not willing to share this information, it typically means they are sending it overseas instead of processing it domestically.
Before choosing an e-waste recycling facility, do your research. Look for an e-waste recycler that has been given the e-Stewards certification, which is known as the most prestigious certification in the e-waste industry. This certification is only given to e-waste recyclers that can account for the final destination of all the e-waste that is brought to their facilities.
To put it simply, e-waste recyclers that have this certification have proven that they process all of their electronic waste in the U.S. instead of shipping it overseas. Doing business with e-Stewards certified e-waste recyclers will reduce the amount of e-waste that ends up overseas, and therefore reduce the number of counterfeit parts that end up in the hands of members of the armed forces.
E-waste recycling has always been framed as an environmental issue, but now you know that there’s much more to it than that. It’s true that recycling e-waste can keep toxic chemicals out of the environment, but it can also protect the country and our armed forces. For these reasons, it’s important for every business and consumer to start recycling their electronics responsibly instead of tossing them in the trash or trusting unreliable e-waste recycling facilities.