After reading this article you will learn about the meaning and environmental impact of Electronic Waste (E-Waste).
Meaning of Electronic Waste:
The modern digital world is creating a growing amount of electronic waste, also referred to as e-waste. All electronic waste can either be reused or broken down, and the materials so obtained may be recycled. Electronic waste includes discarded electrical or electronic devices.
There is a lack of consensus as to whether the term should apply to resale, reuse, and refurnishing industries, or only to a product that cannot be used for its intended purpose. Informal processing of electronic waste in developing countries may cause serious health and pollution problems, though these countries are also most likely to reuse and repair electronics.
All electronic scrap components, such as CRTs, may contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants. Even in developed countries recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to workers and communities hence great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leakage of materials like heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes.
An estimated 50 million ton of E-waste is produced every year. The USA discards 30 million computers each year and 100 million phones are disposed off in Europe every year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators.
According to a report by UNEP titled, “Recycling – from E-Waste to Resources,” the amount of e-waste being produced – including mobile phones and computers – could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade in some countries, such as India.
The United States is the world leader in producing electronic waste, tossing away about 3 million ton each year. China already produces about 2.3 million ton (2010 estimate) domestically, second only to the United States. And, despite having banned e-waste imports, China remains a major e-waste dumping ground for developed countries.
Electrical waste contains hazardous but also valuable and scarce materials. Up to 60 elements can be found in complex electronics. In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in-landfills come from discarded electronics.
Environmental Impact of Electronic Waste:
The processes of dismantling and disposing off electronic waste in the third world lead to a number of environmental impacts as illustrated in the graphic. Liquid and atmospheric releases end up in bodies of water, groundwater, soil, and air and therefore in land and sea animals – both domesticated and wild, in crops eaten by both animals and human beings, and in drinking water.
One study of environmental effects in Guiyu, China found the following facts:
i. Airborne bow – one type found at 100 times level previously measured
ii. Levels of carcinogens in duck ponds and rice paddies exceeded international standards for agricultural areas and cadmium, copper, nickel, and lead levels in rice paddies were above international standards
iii. Heavy metals found in road dust – lead over 300 times that of a control village’s road dust and copper over 100 times
E-waste presents a potential security threat to individuals and exporting countries. Hard drives that are not properly erased before the computer is disposed off can be reopened, exposing sensitive information. Credit card numbers, private financial data, account information, and records of online transactions can be accessed by most willing individuals.