E- waste disposal? Why should it matter?
Alright, lets begin first with few facts about e-waste and e-waste disposal.
E-waste disposal refers to the proper disposal of discarded electrical and electronic equipment.
Increased sales in the sales of electronic equipment and the rapidly continuance in advance of technology, changes in style and also fashion have greatly contributed to an increase in electronic waste generation.
Well, should I say congratulations to us who are in Asia which is apparently the leading contributor to e-waste?
Read the story here.
This increase in production of electronic waste is a major concern and many questions concerning electronic waste disposal have gone unanswered in many major environmental meetings. It might not be a major challenge but it poses few challenges to the world especially in the developing countries.
There have been a few good techniques in electronic waste disposal that have been put into use in various parts of the world.
E-waste and its effects
E-waste should always be disposed in the proper manner in order to avoid environmental degradation of many kinds. The improper disposal of e- waste results in a vicious cycle. The process of degradation and dismantling of electronic waste results in leaching of toxic materials and also a release of poisons gasses.
These poisonous releases are not only harmful to the natural environment but may also end up in major water bodies like springs, rivers, lakes and even the ocean. A buildup will occur resulting in very high toxicity levels in the air, soil, and water.
Image courtesy of drpnncpptak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The high toxicity means that plants will be affected, fish and also the drinking water. This will result in buildup in the human and animal bodies. This, in turn, will then lead to plant deaths, eutrophication of plants in the water and emergence of cancerous diseases.
The effects of improper electronic waste disposal will not be felt or seen immediately but once it occurs little can be done to stop them.
In the human body, these harmful toxins can cause problems of the heart, kidney or cause any major organ of the body to fail. This is one but a few of the examples that shows how unsafe disposal of e-waste materials can cause.
E-waste disposed of in a proper and enlightened manner also helps us in getting more secondary resources at a relatively cheaper price. This safe disposal by reusing and recycling of electronic waste is practical and can be easily and cheaply achieved. This can immensely cut costs of producing new items.
Many business moguls, especially in the third world countries have been opening companies that are cost effective through the use of recycled e-waste materials. They believe this gives them a cutting edge in their business models by keeping them a few steps ahead of the competition.
Do you know?
According to estimations reports by the United Nations environmental program,
it is estimated that 50 million tons of electronic waste comprising mainly of computers and smartphones are expected to be done away with in 2017. That is a 20 percent increase from 2015 where around 41 million tons of e-waste was discarded by exportation into third world countries who are unfortunately serving as global landfills.
As of today, it is estimated that over 30 million tons of electronic waste have been created and thrown out.
In 2014, 41.8 million tonnes of e-waste was generated and only 4 billion people are covered by national legislation. That’s approximately 4 out of every 7 people (UNU, 1st Global E-waste Monitor).
Guiyu in Southern China was once described as the electronic waste capital of the world but thankfully it disappeared last year after a study of children found there reported that they had abnormally high levels of lead in their blood circulatory system.
This is one of the few lucky cases to be successfully controlled and done away with. But for other developing countries still accepting e-waste dumping, let us just hope that they adopt the right policies before it is too late.
It has also been reported by the UN that up to 90 percent of e-waste generated is illegally dumped. This is backed up by a study that found that there is no data to show where 6 million tons of electronic waste go to every year.
These reports goes a long way to show that the sustainable development goals cannot be possibly met if the trend continues. It is estimated that 7-10 billion tons of waste produced worldwide every year comprises majorly of electronic waste.
This shows that electronic waste is rapidly becoming a major concern that can we cannot afford to ignore.
What causes of e-waste?
Technology and Development
The main cause of increased electronic waste production is the issue to do with the development of the technology and information industries. More production of electronics causes more disposal problems of electronic waste and over time other factors ceteris paribos.
An example of this is of smartphones and how the producing companies compete to outdo each other in producing the latest and most improved models. This leads to consumers also trying to keep up with the new trend, in the process, the old smartphones are sold as second-hand products or are even thrown away.
You will find that an average earning person may change a phone once or twice a year. This results in millions of phones becoming electronic waste.
It is estimated that in the United States alone there are many millions of obsolete computers. Most electronics in developed countries have an average lifespan of around 2 years.
Use of technology
The second cause of electronic waste growth is the issue of technology which we cannot deny. Third world countries are not left behind in this production, it is estimated that the sale of computers and use of the internet in developing countries has recently gone up by 400%.
Technological changes come along with new products and appliances. Man, being a rational being will always have to adjust to the latest technical aids and advancements to make his life easy.
Manufacturing unrecyclable materials
One of the causes of e-waste is caused by the manufacturing companies; this situation occurs when manufacturing companies use unrecyclable materials during production. Currently, companies and manufacturing industries are advised to replace their raw materials with something that can be recycled making the final product eco-friendly.
Environmental awareness levels have also been raised by organizations and governments. Effective measures of manufacturing gadgets that are recyclable are slowly moving into place in developed countries.
Main examples of e-waste materials
Majority of items that compose of e-waste include-Mobile phones, i-pads, computer monitors, cathode ray tubes, fluorescent tubes, circuit boards, TV’s , plastics from printers, laptops, video games, keyboards, bulbs, gold plated components, computer wires, speakers, DVD’s, x-box, batteries and anything with a cord or a cable.
E-waste disposal should always be done well; this is due to the high level of toxicity found in the electronic equipment. Therefore all treatment of electronic waste should be handled carefully and skillfully to avoid environmental spillages of which have very high social-economic and health impacts.
Some of these components contain hazardous material as stated in the examples below.
Examples of hazardous materials found in e-waste
Lead, which is a major toxin in the body, is found in solder or lead acid batteries which are estimated to contain up to 8 pounds of lead. Effects of lead exposure include impaired cognitive function, disturbances in behavior, difficulty in paying attention, hyperactivity and lowered IQ.
These effects are more pronounced in children because their nervous system is not fully developed making them more susceptible to lead damage, cadmium, and mercury.
Cathode ray tubes in short CRT’s contain phosphors and lead both of which are necessary for display. Cathode ray tubes are one of the known hardest components of electronic waste to recycle.
The process used here is the removal of yoke followed by dumping. Personal computers also pose a big threat so their disposal process needs skills in disassembling. Individual components are stripped down and remarketed if possible.
Battery backups are also quite dangerous due to the fact that they use lead acid. Most of them are refined to commodities such as sodium sulfate which is a fertilizer.
Most plastics like keyboards are smelted and reused in other industrial categories, although the burning of this plastic also contributes to air pollution.
Seven e-waste disposal techniques
Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Recycling is a process that involves dismantling electronic devices and separating of hazardous substances like circuit boards and Cathode ray tubes. This is the most preferred method to manage electronic waste as it is the safest, cheapest and easiest. In the U.S there are specific companies that can do the recycling because for a company to be allowed to do recycling it has to be certified. Certification ensures that the company adheres to guidelines leading to maintenance of highest environmental standards possible.
Land that is deserted may be used after soil excavation is done to good depths.
This method can also deal with huge volumes of waste although the hazardous acid waste mostly finds their way to local water sources if the designated area was not per say cemented.
Refurbished electronics can always be sold back to buyers at cheap prices and yet serving their needs. Many companies in Europe are against this option although at latter days it may be very effective.
This happens in specially designed incinerators. This method is pretty much easy in dealing with immense volumes of waste. The energy released during combustion is also harnessed and used for other industrial purposes. However, this process cannot lack in certain aspects like the escape and emission of harmful gasses in the environment.
The slow killing gasses of mercury and cadmium are mostly released by incineration of e-waste.
This method involves modifications in part or whole for spoilt gadgets. The unwanted e-waste may also be worthy in some other developing country for a second-hand use. This method has proved to do well and even in some instances work well as charitable stuff.
The Acid-bath method involves the soaking of electronic circuits in hydrochloric, nitric, or sulfuric acid solutions that melt the metals from the pathways. The metal recovered is then used in manufacturing other products.
Retailers and owners should have an agreement of this particular kind. This will prove to be one of the world’s best methods to collect and recycle materials made and supplied by each manufacturer. With a monetary incentive from the manufacturer, it can even be easier.
Current consumer and legal efforts concerning e-waste
Currently, there are different policies and government legislations that govern the reuse, recycling and also proper e-waste disposal. The rules and policies aim to reduce export of electronic waste to the developing countries because this is just a way of delaying the inevitable.
The E-waste recycling act passed in California is an example the increasing government legislation concerning electronic waste management. The act requires that consumers have to part with extra cash for certain types of electronic waste generated.
The money is then given to recognized recycling companies qualified to perform proper recycling of the e-waste. This makes California state unique by being the only one having such kind of legislature because many other states and other countries depend on the ordinary waste disposal legislations.
Dell took a major step in 2006 by developing a completely free recycling program. This just goes further to show that manufacturers should take some responsibility for recycling their manufactured electronic waste. The step took by dell led other companies such as best buy, Sony, and even Samsung to set up electronic waste recycling programs.
In the Philippines (where I live), there is no specific law to e-waste disposal and not even a long-term study on the disposal of electronic waste (Envirocycle-inc.com).
However, there are articles that has something to do with with e-waste disposal.
RA 6969 – AN ACT TO CONTROL TOXIC SUBSTANCES AND HAZARDOUS AND NUCLEAR WASTES, PROVIDING PENALTIES FOR VIOLATIONS THEREOF, AND FOR OTHER
DENR Administrative Order No. 28, Series of 1994: THE INTERIM GUIDELINES ON THE IMPORTATION OF RECYCLABLE MATERIALS CONTAINING HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES. http://www2.gec.jp/gec/jp/Activities/ietc/fy2010/e-waste/ew_1-7.pdf
RA 9003 – AN ACT PROVIDING FOR AN ECOLOGICAL SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT
PROGRAM, CREATING THE NECESSARY INSTITUTIONAL MECHANISMS AND
INCENTIVES, DECLARING CERTAIN ACTS PROHIBITED AND PROVIDING
PENALTIES, APPROPRIATING FUNDS THEREFOR, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. (http://emb.gov.ph)
Consumers play a major role in reducing electronic waste.
What we can simply do besides disposing of electronic waste responsibly is reducing our consumption. One less item purchased, charged and cared for results in one less item becoming an electronic waste.
Image courtesy of Kittisak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Consumers can reduce electronic waste production by having self-control and not participating in impulse buying.
It also helps to research all purchases and getting the most eco-friendly option. Powering down your computer and also the printer when not in use also aids in lengthening their lifespan.
The other option that can help reduce electronic waste production is giving employees an option to telecommute once or twice a week this can yield a big percentage in electricity saving plus it also saves money and improve the morale of employees.
So let us reduce electronic waste in the environment by recycling, repurposing, reducing equipment use and selecting eco-friendly products.