Unreguated recycling of electronic waste is putting numerous unstudied and harmful chemicals into the environment. And they aren't going away any time soon. These substances have extremely long life times, and are generally highly mobile, either through biomagnification or through distribution in water and the atmosphere.
Most of the research that has been conducted on the impact of e-waste recycling addresses health concerns, but surprisingly few deal with the effect these same substances might have on the environment. Countless case studies show increasing levels of these toxins in plants, water, soil, air, and organisms, but there is not enough research to make strong conclusions about the specific effects these substances might have on the environment in the future. However, the elevated levels of toxins in the environment are undeniably present and increasing.
As concentration levels continue to rise, effects will likely start to become more pronounced. Also, many of the substances that appear stable in their current situations could become volatile as a result of changes in the climate, particularly with increasing temperatures and acidification of soils and rain water.
A number of these substances are relatively new, do not occur in nature, and have not been studied to assess their potential environmental effects. However, they are getting incorportaed into water, air, plants, animals and people at higher and higher concentrations. Though we can't say for sure what the ramifications will be, it is extremely dangerous for us to allow these unstudied substances to spread throughout ecosystems.
Despite agreement between nations as to the many detrimental effects of e-waste, developing nations have done little to prevent it from leaving their boarders. The September 2008 issue if The Environmental News Service Journal, reported that an investigation commissioned by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Government Accountability Office found that in addition to the EPA's poor enforcement performance, the regulations themselves are too limited to deal with the problem. Exports of electronics flow virtually unrestricted, even to countries where unsafe recycling practices can cause health and environmental problems. Yet despite this criticism the EPA has done nothing to enact stricter e-waste regulation.
State and local authorities have tried to make up for the federal governments lack of regulatory oversight by enacting their own regulation to off set the costs and environmental effects of disposing electronic waste, and private industry has worked to reduce, not only the hazardousness, but also the amount of waste. Additionally, entrepreneurs have developed innovative, cost effective recycling solutions. But ultimately it’s up to us, the consumer, to responsibly discard our unwanted electronic waste.