Today’s Electronic Gadgets, Tomorrow’s E- Waste! Its no secret that E-Waste is increasing at an alarming rate with each passing day. In this post we will discuss in detail about what is Electronic Waste (E-Waste), sources, causes, composition, it’s effects, treatment and disposal system.
What is E-Waste
Electronic Waste or E-Waste describes rejected electrical or electronic devices. All items of electrical and electronic equipment and its parts that have been discarded by the user as waste without the purpose of re-use or re-cycle is called Electronic Waste.
Stored used electronics are also considered E-Waste. Improper processing of E-Waste can lead to dangerous human health effects and environmental pollution.
Fig. 1 – Introduction to E-Waste
Any item which is considered as Electronic Waste has a Lifetime Profile which differs for different categories of Electrical and Electronic devices. Lifetime Profile includes the information about hazardous quantity present in discarded items, economic value and the effects on environment and health of people if they are not recycled appropriately.
Electronic Waste is dismantled and sorted manually in developing countries unlike developed nations which make use of sophisticated machinery and provides PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for the people who risk their lives in extraction of different materials from Electronic Waste.
Fig. 2 – Manual Sorting of Electronic Waste
Sources of E-Waste
Any appliance that runs on electricity has the potential to cause damage to the environment if it is not disposed properly. Common things of electrical and electronic waste are:
- Large household appliances like refrigerators/freezers, washing machines, dishwashers, televisions.
- Small household appliances which include toasters, coffee makers, irons, hairdryers.
- Information Technology (IT) and Telecommunications equipment namely personal computers, telephones, mobile phones, laptops, printers, scanners, photocopiers etc.
- Lighting equipment such as fluorescent lamps.
- Electronic or Electrical tools i.e. handheld drills, saws, screwdrivers etc.
- Toys, leisure and sports equipment.
- Monitoring and control instruments.
- Automatic dispensers.
Fig. 3 – Distinctive contents of E-Waste
Causes of E-Waste
The main causes of Electronic Waste are:
- Advancement in Technology.
- Changes in style fashion and status.
- End of their helpful life.
- Not taking precautions while handling them.
Composition of E-Waste
Composition of E-Waste includes materials like:
- Valuable metals like gold, platinum, silver and palladium.
- Useful metals like copper, aluminium, iron etc.
- Hazardous substances like radioactive isotopes and mercury.
- Toxic substances like PCB’s and Dioxins.
- Plastic like High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Polycarbonate (PC), Polyphenylene oxide (PPO) etc.
- Glass material like Cathode Ray Tube glass made up of SiO2, CaO, Na.
For instance, a mobile phone contains more than 40 elements, base metals such as Copper (Cu) and Tin (Sn), special metals such as Lithium (Li), Cobalt (Co), Indium (In) and Antimony (Sb) and precious metals such as Silver (Ag), Gold (Au), and Palladium (Pd).
Fig. 4 – Composition of E-Waste
Effects of E-Waste
The effects of improper disposal of E-waste on the environment pose very real threats and dangers to the global environment at large. Improper disposal of these wastes affect the soil, air and water components of the environment.
- Effects of E-Waste on Air: Most common result of E-waste on air is through air pollution. Burning of e waste can release hydrocarbons within the atmosphere that pollutes the air.
- E-Waste Negatively Impacts Soil: E-waste can have a negative effect on the soil. As e-waste breaks down, it releases toxic heavy metals. Such heavy metals include lead, arsenic, and cadmium. When these toxins penetrate the soil, they influence the plants and trees. Thus, these toxins can enter the human food supply, which can lead to birth defects as well as a number of other health complications.
- Effects of E-Waste on Water: Heavy metals like mercury, lithium, lead present in electronics (found in mobile phone and computer batteries), etc., when not disposed properly, these heavy metals penetrate from soil to groundwater which then run to the surface as streams or small ponds of water.
Collection, Treatment and Disposal System
Various methods of treatment and disposal system includes:
- Land Filling– Disposal of Electronic Waste is mainly through land filling. Mostly, the discarded electronic goods finally end-up in landfill sites along with other municipal waste or are openly burnt releasing toxic and carcinogenic substances into the atmosphere.
- Incineration– In this complete combustion process, the waste material is burned in specially designed incinerators at a high temperature (900-1000o C). It reduces waste volume and some environmentally hazardous organic substances are converted into less hazardous compounds.
- Recycling of E-Waste – Recycling involves dismantling, processing and end processing. Comparatively, the value of recycling from the element could be much higher in comparison to other treatments.
- Re-use– It includes direct second hand use or use after slight modifications to the original functioning equipment like Inkjet cartridge is used after refilling. Old working computers can be donated to schools or organization working in the field of education. Computers beyond repairs can be returned back to the manufacturers. This can considerably reduce the volume of E-Waste generation converted into less hazardous compounds.
Recycling of E-Waste is necessary but it should be conducted in a safe and standardized manor. The dangerous nature of Electronic Waste is one of the fastest growing environment problems of the world. Lack of awareness and appropriate skills increases amount of Electronic Waste. Necessary information should be provided to these workers for safe handling of E-Waste and personal protection.