Americans spend thousands of dollars on their energy bills each year, contributing not only to increased financial pressure, but also to greater carbon emissions. While heating and lighting are the biggest contributors to high energy bills, electronic devices are starting to take an even bigger chunk out of household expenses. With people buying up
Space heating and cooling now makes up less than 50% of all residential energy consumption, down from 58% two decade ago, according to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey from the Energy Information Administration.
Among the reasons for the shift: More energy efficient equipment,
Our high-tech products increasingly make use of rare metals, and mining those resources can have devastating environmental consequences. But if we block projects like the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, are we simply forcing mining activity to other parts of the world where protections may be far weaker?
Every time someone pushes the on-button on an electronic device, there is an expectation that the unit will power up quickly and display images in vibrant color. There is the further expectation, especially when using electronic devices for communications such as email access, web downloading, and texting that the response time will be immediate. We live in an age of technological arms races in which manufacturers gain market edge by creating products that are faster, have more applications, have a broader network reach, and generally do more.
The processing capacity of digital electronic devices doubles about every two years (Moore’s Law), and this capacity increase is enabled by an expanded use of elements. For example, computer chips made use of 11 major elements in the 1980s but now use about 60 (two-thirds of the periodic table!). And the electronics sector isn’t alone. Engine turbine blades for aircraft are made of alloys of a dozen or so metals; motors and batteries of green-technology hybrid vehicles depend on several of the rare earths; advances in medical imaging have come about by the unique band gaps of elements such as gadolinium. It seems that there are no limits to what the imagination can create except for the fact that many of the metals are globally rare and, given the nature of current technology, non-substitutable.
Global efforts to ban the trade of electronics waste to developing nations in the hopes of ending so-called “backyard recycling” will only exacerbate a growing environmental problem, according to a new study.
Developed nations often export e-waste, such as old computers, to China, India, Thailand, and less developed nations where crude recycling processes can emit pollutants that contaminate the air, water, and soil.
For instance, copper wire is often pulled from the old computers and the insulation burned off, emitting dioxins and other chemicals.
The U.S. Congress is now considering an e-waste trade ban. But similar efforts have backfired, according to Eric Williams of Arizona State University.