E-Waste

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Every year we buy a new updated electronic equipment and gadgets to support our needs and wishes. Nearly most of the discarded consumer electronics end up in landfills. Electronic waste is one of the rapidly growing problems of the world; according to United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), almost 20–50 million metric tons of electronic waste are produced globally each year.

Most of discarded electronic products left in landfills contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. These toxic compounds can leach into air, soil, and water, polluting lakes and streams, making them unfit for drinking, swimming, fishing, and supporting wildlife.

Many of the materials used in these electronics can be recycled to be used in other electronics. The metal, plastics, batteries, and packaging materials in products such as cell phones can be used for new products. Metals such as gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, copper, tin, lead, brass, and zinc can be recovered for jewelry, plating, electronics, plumbing, automotive, and art foundries.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of e-waste is recycled because specialized and often “high-tech” methods are required to process e-waste optimally. Hence, much of the world’s e-waste travelling great distances, mostly to developing countries, where crude techniques are often used to extract precious materials or recycle parts for further use.

Over 90% of e-waste landfills or dumps have no environmental standards. It is cheaper to export e-waste to developing countries than to recycle locally; common e-waste destinations include Brazil, China, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines.

China is the most popular dumping ground, receiving an estimate of 70% of the global e-waste produced yearly. In 2020, it is estimated that in China, e-waste from computers will jump by 200%‒400%, and from mobile phones will increase by 700%.

Informal recycling markets in these countries handle around 50%‒80% of this e waste, often shredding, burning, and dismantling the products, which threatens and damages human health and the environment due to unsafe procedures. Workers at e-waste sites are prone to skin rashes, cancer, nerve, and brain damage. In China’s Guiyu region, workers have extremely high levels of toxic fire retardants in their bodies and over 80% of the children already have lead poisoning.

In industries, management of e-waste should begin at the point of generation. This can be done by waste minimization techniques and by sustainable product design. By reducing both the quantity of hazardous materials used in the process and the amount of excess raw materials in stock, the quantity of waste generated can be reduced.

Some electronic manufacturers and corporations offer a convenient and secure way to dispose of outdated or damaged equipment. They offer low-cost or no cost “take-back” and recycling programs. Options include returning the items to the place of purchase, dropping them off at a collection point, or sending them by mail back to the manufacturer.

Here too there are charity organizations that do the same. Look around your home, you may find an old electronic equipment that you no longer use. Donate or sell them; recycle, and save the environment.

References
http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/electronic-waste-developing-world
http://www.openideo.com/challenge/e-waste/brief.html
http://www.who.int/ceh/risks/ewaste/en/

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