Any household or business item containing circuitry or electrical components with either power or battery supply can be termed as E-Waste. Examples of E waste are TV appliances, computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, white goods – for example, fridges, washing machines, dryers – home entertainment and stereo systems, toys, toasters and kettles.
The digital age as we live in has its own disadvantages and E Waste is a harmful disadvantage which we cannot afford to ignore. If the problem doesn’t seem big enough here are some facts which will depict its enormity.
- 20-50 million tons of E waste is generated every year
- Electronic waste (e-waste) now makes up five percent of all municipal solid waste worldwide
- E-waste is now the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream
- There are more mobile phones on our planet than toothbrushes
Improper processing of E waste can have dangerous consequences to the environment as well as to the general population. This is more likely to happen in developing countries as they not have proper regulatory bodies to oversee E waste processing.
Why is E Waste increasing?
- Rapid changes in technology – Technological advances in every electronics category make the products using older technology obsolete.
- Changes in media – Continuous shifts in the devices used for storing media.
- Falling prices of electronics – Due to economies of scale and extensive R&D – the prices of electronics have come down significantly due to which the demand has increased.
- Abundance of choices – The always increasing demand has made the electronics business a very lucrative one and hence a lot of players have entered different electronics categories resulting in a myriad of choices.
- Higher Disposable Income – As the world moves towards development the income at the hands of the general population is also increasing.
- Over reliance on electronics – Electronic equipment have covered our needs like the atmosphere covers the earth.
Harmful effects of E-Waste
There are toxins such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants, mercury, barium and lithium present in electronic equipment. Even the plastic casings of electronics products contain Polyvinyl Chloride. These toxins have many adverse effects. The health defects include birth defects, brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system damage. They also significantly affect the nervous and reproductive system of the human body. Chromium VI and lead may also cause DNA damage. Substances like mercury can cause brain and liver damage if ingested or inhaled. All these toxins are persistent bio-accumulative toxins (PBTs) that create environmental and health risks when electronic circuits are incinerated, put in landfills or melted down. When computers monitors and other electronics are burned they result in cancer-producing dioxins which are released into the air we breathe. If electronics are thrown in landfills, these toxins may percolate into groundwater and affect local resources.
Concerns for the developing world
The developing world faces two major concerns due to E-Waste. First is the unsafe and improper way in which E-Waste is processed. Second is that the developing countries are becoming dump yard for the E-Waste produced by the developed world. Increased regulations regarding electronic waste and high cost of recycling electronic waste have incentivized the developed economies to send this waste to developing countries on the pretext of second hand exports or for recycling. In reality the developing countries are not well equipped to recycle or destroy this waste properly. They burn the waste, which causes harmful toxins to be released in the air. Guiyu in the Shantou region of China is a huge electronic waste processing area. This dump yard has provided employment to over 15000 people in this area. The primary task of these workers is to disintegrate old computers and to extract the parts which can be reused or sold. Uncontrolled burning, disassembly, and disposal cause many environmental problems such as groundwater contamination, atmospheric pollution, or even water pollution which may be due to immediate discharge or due to surface runoff. There are also some serious health complications which occur when working in close proximity to electronic waste.
Taking stock of the risks entangled with E-Waste it becomes a moral responsibility of us as responsible citizens of this planet to take action against the proliferation of E-Waste. Here are some steps one can take to do their bit in tackling this environmental problem.
- Buy-Back – Instead of throwing away a gadget when it becomes old one can make a little effort to look for someone who wants to use it. This will increase the average lifecycle of gadgets.
- Taking back the junk – There are many stores who take back old electronics. For example – Apple, Canon, HP et cetera.
- Recycling – This is the most tedious of the things one can indulge in. Any carelessness in recycling process can have harmful after effects both to us and the environment. It is required that one finds organisations who deal with recycling on electronic waste.
- Create Awareness – We can also create awareness against harmful effects of electronic waste among our family, friends and colleagues.
There needs to be a concerted international effort to tackle and defeat the problem of E-Waste. There aren’t many concrete initiatives undertaken yet which ignite any hope and positivity against the problem of E-waste.