computer addiction, get outside, green kids, e-waste, e-recycling, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

E-waste is a significant problem

E-waste is technology waste created by cell phones, laptops, monitors, iPhones, e-readers and other electronic devices. E-waste is considered to be one of the fastest growing waste issues facing the United States and other countries today. Consider the following facts based on the most current e-waste research:

  • The EPA says national recycling rates for electronics are at less than 35%, though officially, other research shows that this estimate may be high. For example, in 2009, just 25% of electronics were collected for recycling.
  • According to ewasteguide about 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste is tossed into landfills each year.

If you think the USA or even the planet as a whole can sustain the sort of e-waste we create annually, you’re sadly mistaken. E-waste includes plastics (and PVCs), chromium, lead, mercury, and other materials that are very dangerous for people and the earth. As chemicals and toxic substances are tossed into landfills they seep into the soil and air creating pollution and affecting the water and food supply. Plus, when these chemicals leech out of electronics, human exposure can cause lung cancer, brain swelling, muscle weakness, damage to the heart, liver and spleen, severe hormonal disorders and many more issues. Earth 911 notes that  e-waste can cause DNA damage, cardiovascular disease and cancer too. The health aspects of e-waste are especially problematic for the 30,000+ full-time workers in the U.S. alone working in the electronic recycling industry.

+ Find out where to recycle your electronics at Greener Gadgets, the EPA or Earth911

+ How kids can help solve the e-waste problem

computer addiction, get outside, green kids, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, e-waste, e-recycling, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
Image: Migrant child from Hunan province sits atop one of countless piles of unrecyclable computer waste imported from around the world. Guiyu, China. December 2001. ©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)

Your e-waste is insanely unethical (if you live in the USA)

The United States participates in some extremely appalling practices, but few are as unethical as how we deal with our technology trash. Because most people in the United States refuse to recycle their e-waste, we’re running out of landfill space. To deal with this growing problem, the United States ships our e-waste away to other countries and they’ve been doing so for years. Out of sight out of mind right? The Basel Action Network (BAN) has a treasure trove of information on the subject of toxic trade. BAN doesn’t believe that it’s fine and dandy to pass our trash on to others, and you shouldn’t either. BAN estimates that as much as 80% of U.S e-waste ends up on foreign shores of China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, Pakistan and other places. This rocks for USA residents. OUR kids aren’t breathing in brominated flame retardants,  PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and other toxic chemicals. Our kids are better protected. Our wasteful habits only harm adults and children in other countries, so we’re good right? Wrong. The next time you think you really need an upgrade and recycling will take too much time, tell yourself that your waste is going to be shipped off to poison children in other countries and consider if that upgrade sans recycling is worth it.

computer addiction, get outside, green kids, e-waste, e-recycling, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Frequent upgrades encourage a disposable attitude in our kids

The e-waste problem wouldn’t be so significant if people weren’t continually upgrading their gadgets. Research notes that the average television has a 10-year lifespan, yet the Telecommunications Industry Association says that people use their brand new televisions for less than two years on average and computers for less than three. I think we all know how often people are upgrading their cells, smartphones and tablets (A LOT). Because people think of technology as utterly disposable, and because there’s a lot of attention placed on having the best, brightest and newest tech on hand, people simple aren’t using their gadgets as long as they should. Folks upgrade before their old items even break down. In fact Clean Air Council states that of all the electronics disposed of in the USA, over two-thirds of them still worked. Not only is upgrading before it’s necessary extremely non-eco-friendly, it sets a very bad example for your kids. I can’t count how many kids I know who consider technology entirely disposable. I know kids who barely flinch when they drop a cell phone, break a laptop or pour water on a tablet because their parents will upgrade them right away. This is in bad form parents. It’s teaching kids that taking care of their stuff is optional, not a requirement and makes kids think that it’s ok when technology is 100% disposable.

+ Visit Last Year’s Model and pledge to NOT upgrade

computer addiction, get outside, green kids, e-waste, e-recycling, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Limiting screen time saves you money – big time

I conducted a little study last year at my personal blog, Growing a Green Family, to see how much excessive screen time might cost the average family. It was really difficult because families use so many different screens in so many ways, but after rounding up a ton of resources and about a billion frustrating calculations, I figured out, that on average, a family of four could save $30,880 or more over 5 years simply by cutting cable, cutting back on smartphone use, and by limiting some screen related extras like apps and video games. What on earth could you do with an extra $30,000? A lot right. That’s a whole lot of organic food, college funds and sustainable home upgrades. Think $30,000 sounds like a huge exaggeration? It’s not. Check out these facts about consumer electronic spending.

  • In 2009, (not counting cable) the average household spent $875 on television, radio, and sound equipment, video game hardware and movie players.
  • Families who have cable shell out an average of $1,200 a year.
  • Netflix’s revenue was reportedly $3.2 billion in 2011.
  • Consumers spent $24.75 billion on video games, hardware and accessories in 2011.
  • Purchases of digital content accounted for 31% of game sales in 2011, generating $7.3 billion in revenue.
  • NPD notes that total consumer spending on all video game content in the US was between $15.4 and $15.6 billion during 2010, including physical console and PC games, digital downloads, used games, rentals, subscriptions, social network games, DLC, and mobile game apps.
  • Some reports note that the average person spends $36.46  per month for video games and $12.51 for mobile games.
  • According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) sales of smartphones and tablet computers jumped to over $206 billion in 2012.
  • The average bill for moderately heavy cell phone users (people who text or surf a lot) is up to $80 per month ($960 per year).
  • Time Magazine notes the average iPhone user can easily spend $1,900 per year ($9,500 per five years), while the Wall Street Journal, says the average data, texting and minute plan for a smartphone costs about $2,100 for a two-year contract, but that doesn’t include taxes (as much as 15%-20%), overage charges or other fees.

When looking at how all of this adds up in the average family, consider that 9 out of 10 Americans own cell phones, with 1/3 of all adults owning smartphone over basic cells. 47% of all teens now own a smartphone and a recent Communications Market Report shows that 85% of kids (younger than teens) say they own a phone. If two adults and one kid in your home own JUST ONE smartphone and zero other screens, that’s already about $2,880 to $6,300 a year not counting any other technology purchases and not counting the time it takes to work for the money to pay for these phones. So, screens really do add up. If you want to save money, limiting screen time and upgrades is a good bet.

+ Cut Back on Screen Time and Save $30,000 or More

+ How Much Do Americans Spend on Electronics? [INFOGRAPHIC]

computer addiction, get outside, green kids, e-waste, e-recycling, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Excessive screen time zaps resources

The EPA points out that all electronic products are made from valuable resources and highly engineered materials. These materials, including metal, plastic, glass and more all take huge amounts of energy to manufacture and also energy to recycle. Limiting tech helps conserve energy, preserves natural resources and cuts back on the greenhouse gas emissions created when we manufacture virgin materials. Other facts about technology and electronic energy:

  • The EPA states that recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 US homes in a year.
  • Electronics TakeBack Coalition notes that frequent upgrades pose energy issues as well, as 81% of a desktop computer’s energy use is in MAKING the computer, not using it.
  • Electronics TakeBack Coalition also notes that it takes 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 1.5 tons of water to manufacture just one computer and monitor.
  • The EPA also notes that for every million cell phones recycled, we end up saving 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered, which means we aren’t grabbing these raw metals from the earth.
  • Earth911 notes that if we recycled 100 million cell phones we’d save enough energy to power approximately 194,000 U.S. households for a year.

computer addiction, get outside, green kids, e-waste, e-recycling, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Other reasons to limit screen time & technology purchases

Beyond the reasons above, technology use and excessive screen time is problematic for the following reasons:

  • It’s estimated that the production and running of the ICT sector results in around 2% of global GHG emissions. This is similar to the airline industry and researchers expect this to double by 2020. For example, RISI points out that “Every year 62 trillion spam emails are sent, contributing greenhouse gases equivalent to two billion gallons of gasoline, or enough to drive a car around the globe 1.6 million times.” Wow.
  • Many “green” electronics are not so green, but merely greenwashing, so buying “green” won’t always help.
  • Incineration of electronics, which happens in the U.S. and all over the world, pushes heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury, highly toxic dioxins and furans and brominated flame retardants right into the air, contributing to global warming.
  • Pretty much every single electronic sold requires excess packaging, including some non-recycled cardboard and paper plus plenty of plastic.

Follow Inhabitots on Facebook or subscribe for free updates so you don’t miss the next post in our screen-free family series.