Consumer electronic waste is a serious problem. Americans replace their cell phones every 22 months, on average, leading to over 140 million cell phones in U.S. landfills annually. Over time, the components in those phones break down, allowing toxic substances to leach into the surrounding soil and water systems. The problem is so significant that electronic waste is often exported, sometimes illegally, to developing countries where it winds up in vast toxic wastelands.
Some countries have taken a proactive approach to reducing the environmental impact of electronic waste. On June 8, 2011, the European Union passed Directive 2011/65/EU which prohibits the sale of electronics with the hazardous substances lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. The aim is to reduce human exposure to the hazardous chemicals by preventing them from ending up in landfills in the form of discarded televisions, cell phones, computers, and other electronics. Repeated lead exposure, for example, can cause significant health risks such as kidney failure, high blood pressure, and cognitive decline. Even when contamination levels are low, exposure can be devastating.