Surprise, surprise: numerous studies indicate that electronic devices could create significant environmental and health problems after they are thrown away. Now, researchers at UC Irvine are working to create solutions to the e-waste problem by working with engineers, manufacturers and public health officials to find better ways to handle existing e-waste and make future electronics greener.
A recent study published in the Journal of Environmental Management headed by Jean-Daniel Saphores, a civil and environmental engineering associate professor at UC Irvine, found that the average American household is steadily accumulating unused consumer electronics that threaten to accelerate the volume of e-waste, which already stands at 2.3 million tons annually. In October of 2009, Saphores teamed up with Oladele Ogunseitan of UCI to author a Policy Forum article in Science that analyzed the complex legislative and industrial issues hindering e-waste solutions, shedding light on ineffective e-waste recycling and disposal practices from state to state and recommending that the U.S. and other countries standardize policies and step up enforcement of anti-dumping laws.
Additionally, Saphores and Ogunseitan press for engineering advances, such as alternatives to toxic metals and designs that are easier to deconstruct. (Currently, it’s difficult to extract contaminants from most electronic devices, which makes recycling time-consuming and cost-prohibitive.) “We need to engineer and manufacture for the life of the product – from when it’s built to when it’s thrown away,” Saphores says, in a statement. “This approach can make recycling more widespread and efficient.”