'c r e s k'  - "creating awareness" on Women and Child Rights, Consumer Rights, Environment Safety, Health, Hygiene and Pollution Control    
 
e-Waste - A Major threat to our environment!
 
Did you get that sleek new mobile phone – the one that plays mp3s, shoots video and surfs the web? How about the latest laptop with customisable covers and a battery that never dies? Replaced your old 21” TV with a plasma big screen? Just got a Multi door fridge in place of your old non-working single door fridge? Congratulations, you’ve got the latest electronics.

So, what did you do with the old phone, computer, TV and the Fridge etc.? If you sold them at a throw away price to a “waste paper mart” or threw them in the garbage, you probably need to get current on the latest in electronics disposal.

e-Waste

Electronic waste, "e-waste" is a waste type consisting of any broken or unwanted electrical or electronic appliance. It is a point of concern considering that many components of such equipment are considered toxic and are not biodegradable.

Electronic waste includes computers, entertainment electronics, mobile phones and other items that have been discarded by their original users. While there is no generally accepted definition of electronic waste, in most cases electronic waste consists of electronic products that were used for data processing, telecommunications, or entertainment in private households and businesses that are now considered obsolete, broken, or irreparable. Despite its common classification as a waste, disposed electronics are a considerable category of secondary resource due to their significant suitability for direct reuse (for example, many fully functional computers and components are discarded during upgrades), refurbishing, and material recycling of its constituent raw materials (listed below). Re-conceptualisation of electronic waste as a resource thus preempts its potentially hazardous qualities.

Definition of electronic waste:

  • Large household appliances (ovens, refrigerators etc.)
  • Small household appliances (toasters, vacuum cleaners etc.)
  • Office & communication (PCs, printers, phones, faxes etc.)
  • Entertainment electronics (TVs, HiFis, portable CD players etc.)
  • Lighting equipment (mainly fluorescent tubes)
  • E-tools (drilling machines, electric lawnmowers etc.)
  • Sports & leisure equipment (electronic toys, training machines etc.)
  • Medical appliances and instruments
  • Surveillance equipment
  • Automatic issuing systems (ticket issuing machines etc.)

 

Statistics

The statistics on electronic waste (e-waste) is alarming. E-waste is now the fastest-growing part of the waste stream. The first comprehensive study to estimate the annual generation of e-waste in India gives alarming numbers. So far the preliminary estimates suggest that total e-Waste generation in India is approximately 1,46,000 tonnes per year.

The top states in order of highest contribution to e-Waste include Maharastra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.

An estimated 30,000 computers become obsolete every year from the IT industry in Bangalore alone. The reason - an extremely high obsolescence rate of 30% per year.  Almost 50% of the PC's sold in India are products from the secondary market and are re-assembled on old components. The remaining market share is covered by multinational manufacturers (30%) and Indian brands (22%) [Source: annual report, MAIT]

Three categories of e-Waste account for almost 90% of the generation:

  • Large Household appliances: 42.1%

  • Information and Communications Technology equipment: 33.9%

  • Consumer Electronics: 13.7%

Think of how many of those people are on their second and even third cell phones.  Out of the high volume of discarded and obsolete computers, only 10% are actually recycled. The vast majority of electronics are simply thrown away.

Dangers

Computers seem so efficient and environmentally friendly, but there are hidden dangers associated with them once they become e-waste.

The harmful materials contained in electronics, coupled with the fast rate at which we’re replacing outdated units, poses a real danger to human health if electronics are not properly processed prior to disposal or recycled.

Electronics like computers and cell phones contain a lot of different toxins. For example, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in computers & televisions contain heavy metals, such as lead, barium and cadmium, which can be very harmful to health if they enter the water system. These materials can cause damage to human nervous and respiratory systems. Flame retardant plastics, used in electronics casings, can release particles that damage human endocrine functions. These are the types of things that can happen when unprocessed e-waste is put directly in landfill.

Electronic waste is a valuable source for secondary raw materials, if treated properly, however if not treated properly it is major source of toxins. Rapid technology change, low initial cost and even planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast growing problem around the globe. Technical solutions are available but in most cases a legal framework, a collection system, logistics and other services need to be implemented before a technical solution can be applied.

Due to lower environmental standards and working conditions in China, India, Kenya, and elsewhere, electronic waste is being sent to these countries for processing. Uncontrolled burning, disassembly, and disposal are causing environmental and health problems, including occupational safety and health effects among those directly involved, due to the methods of processing the waste.

Electronic waste is of concern largely due to the toxicity of some of the substances if processed improperly. The toxicity is due in part to lead, mercury, cadmium and a number of other substances. A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight, much of which is in the lead glass of the CRT.

The environmental and social benefits of reuse are several

Diminished demand for new products and their commensurate requirement for virgin raw materials and larger quantities of pure water and electricity for associated manufacturing, less packaging per unit, availability of technology to wider swaths of society due to greater affordability of products, and diminished use of landfills.

Challenges remain, when materials cannot or will not be reused, conventional recycling or disposal via landfill often follow. Standards for both approaches vary widely by jurisdiction, whether in developed or developing countries. The complexity of the various items to be disposed of, cost of environmentally sound recycling systems, and the need for concerned and concerted action to collect and systematically process equipment are the resources most lacked -- though this is changing. Many of the plastics used in electronic equipment contain flame-retardants. These are generally halogens added to the plastic resin, making the plastics difficult to recycle.

Chemical elements contained in e-Waste

  • Elements in bulk: lead, tin, copper, silicon, carbon, iron and aluminum
  • Elements in small amounts: cadmium and mercury,
  • Elements in trace amounts: germanium, gallium, barium, nickel, tantalum, indium, vanadium, terbium, beryllium, gold, europium, titanium, ruthenium, cobalt, palladium, manganese, silver, antimony, bismuth, selenium, niobium, yttrium, rhodium, platinum, arsenic, lithium, boron, americium

List of examples of devices containing these elements

  • Almost all electronics contain lead & tin (as solder) and copper (as wire & PCB tracks), though the use of lead-free solder is now spreading rapidly.
  • Lead: Solder, CRT Monitors (Lead in glass), Lead-acid battery
  • Copper: copper wire, Printed circuit board tracks
  • Aluminium: nearly all electronic goods using more than a few watts of power (heat sinks)
  • Iron: Steel chassis, cases & fixings
  • Silicon: glass, transistors, ICs, Printed circuit boards.
  • Nickel & Cadmium: Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries
  • Zinc: plating for steel parts
  • Gold: connector plating, primarily in computer equipment
  • Americium: Smoke alarms (radioactive source)
  • Mercury: fluorescent tubes (numerous applications)
  • Carbon: Steel, plastics, resistors. In almost all-electronic equipment.

Laws

Countries, such as Japan and the member nations of the European Union, have laws that regulate e-waste disposal. Internationally, the Basel Convention treaty restricts the export of hazardous waste from developed countries to developing countries. In India there are no proper regulations or legislations that specifically addresses e-waste disposal or importing e-waste dumps from developed countries.

e-Responsibility - everyone’s responsibility

Individual consumers are obviously not solely responsible for e-waste issues. Institutions also bear a significant ownership of these problems. Think of how many computers and mobile phones are in your workplace. Clearly, businesses make a substantial contribution to the consumption and disposal of electronics. Thus, supervisors in change of IT purchasing should ensure the responsible recycling and/or disposal of company computers and cell phones.

Manufacturers are also involved in the situation, as they determine what materials go into the electronics. In many instances, objectionable materials are used in response to consumer demand for cheaper computers and phones. So, there’s a cycle at work that implicates virtually everyone. It really boils down to this: parties who make, use, sell or purchase electronics have a responsibility to participate in some form of e-waste management program.

Conclusion

Recycling and the proper disposal of electronics is a major part of the solution to our growing e-waste problem. Responsible practices in the manufacture of hardware must also contribute to the solution. Regardless of whether these positive actions are mandated by government, progress occurs when individuals and businesses change their thinking about e-waste. Government of India should encourage e-waste processing industry to be started in all states and ensure systematic recycling without affecting the environment.