Electronic Waste, also called e-waste, refers to various forms of electric and electronic equipments which have been discarded. These are the unwanted, non-working or obsolete (outdated) electronic products which have reached the end of their shelf life. These include the discarded electronic products such as parts of computers, mobiles, televisions, washing machines, refrigerators and so on.
The world produces 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year, according to 2019 UN report. Acoording to the report, only 20% of this e-waste is formally recycled and rest ends up in landfill or is recycled informally in developing countries.
Sources of e-waste
There are a number of different sources of e-waste such as
• Waste generated from the products used for data processing such as computers, computer devices like monitors, speakers, keyboards, printers, etc.
• Electronic devices used for entertainment like TV, DVDs and CD players. Equipments or devices used for communication like phones, landlines etc.
• Household equipments like vacuum cleaners, washing machines, air conditioners that have became old and people want to get rid of from them.
• Outdated electronic items like VCR, stereo, big monitors etc.
Effects of e-waste
e-wastes have many harmful effects on humans, animals and our environment. Some of the effects of e-waste are given below
• Electronic devices use potentially harmful metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, etc. When dumped into the landfills, these metals are known to release harmful toxins that may reach from the soil into the environment and cause health issues to animals and humans alike.
• There are chances that the chemicals -released from e-wastes may percolate into the ground resulting in land and water pollution.
Polychlorinated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers are the important components of e-waste and have dangerous side effects. These toxins and chemicals cause birth-defects, kidney, liver, heart and skeletal system damage. Besides, they are known to have a deteriorating effect on the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body.
• The hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are present in air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines. They are the causative agents of ozone depletion. These toxins also bio-accumulate through the food chains and cause a serious threat to all species on the planet
Recycling is the best method to control e-waste. Recycling of e-waste takes place in 3 major steps. These steps are
To ensure safe disposal or recycling of e-waste, detoxication process takes place for the electronic materials. Detoxication is the process of removing critical components from the e-waste in order to avoid contamination with toxic substances during the downstream processes. Critical components include lead glass from CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) screens, CFC (Chlorofluorocarbon) gases froin refrigerators, light bulbs and batteries.
In this method, electronic materials are broken into pieces to obtain concentrates of recyclable materials in a dedicated fraction and also to further separate hazardous material. The mechanical processing plants where shredding takes place include shredders, crushing units, magnetic and eddy current and air separators. The emitted gases are filtered and residues are treated to minimise environmental impact.
Next step of e-waste recycling is refining of the shredded materials to obtain reusable components. Refining of resources in e-waste is possible and the technical solutions exist to get back raw material with minimum environmental impacts.
Other Ways of e-waste Management
The rampantly growing environmental footprint of the e-waste is indeed a cause of worry. It is the responsibility of both the consumers and producers to manage the growing e-waste. Some of the suggested ways of e-waste management are as follows:
•Most of the electronic material has a certain amount of reusable component associated with it. This reusable component includes metals such as copper, aluminium, lead, gold, silver and iron etc. Special environment-friendly techniques need to be devised in order to extract this material safely from the waste material.
• Instead of throwing away, they can be donated to needy people. Used gadget can also be sold at cheaper rates. These electronic products should be repaired and reused if possible.
• Instead of throwing away the e-wastes, it should be sold as scrap material. For this, the initiatives of producers are needed. The producers can enter the recycling chain by providing a collection service and a repurchase offer better than that of the unorganised sector.
• The consumers can be provided with financial incentives in order to make them enter the formal recycle chain. They need to be encouraged to get the defunct gadgets and electronic items out of their house. Many companies like Dell, Apple and HP have started various recycling schemes. The concept of three R’s i.e. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle can play a significant role in e-waste management.
•The formal and informal sector can be clubbed together in order to provide better e-waste management. Besides, the producers must try to incorporate environment friendly raw material in the manufacturing of the final products.
Creating Awareness About the Side Effects of e-waste
People need to be made aware of the side effects of e-waste. It can be done by following ways:
• One should not resort to mindless or reckless dumping of the electronic gadgets but donate or resell these items.
• Scientific techniques should be devised instead of incineration or such harmful techniques for the disposal of these wastes.
•Proper training should be given to the workers engaged in e-waste recycling so that e-waste management is done on scientific lines.
• The Government, NGOs and educational institutions should come forward to create awareness among the people about the harmful effect of e-waste and about ways to reduce it.
• As per recent study conducted by ASSOCHAM-KPMG (2018), India has emerged as the world’s fifth largest e-waste producer. Therefore, the government needs to come forward and make rules and punish the defaulters.
The Government of India has also took some important initiatives in order to reduce e-waste in the country. Some of these are as follows
• Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change under the Government of India has notified E-waste Management Rules, 2016 in order to keep a check and enable proper management of the e-waste. As per this rule, the manufacturer is also now responsible to collect e-waste generated during manufacture of any electrical equipment and channelise it for recycling or disposal and seek authorisation from State Pollution Control Board (SPCB).
• Besides this, E-Parisaraa is an excellent initiative for the management of e-waste in the country. E-Parisaraa, an eco-friendly recycling unit on the outskirts of the city, is India’s first e-waste recycling unit. It aims to reduce pollution and landfill waste along with recovering valuable metals, plastics and glass in an eco-friendly way.
• The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has initiated an e-waste awareness programme under Digital India, alongwith industry associations from 2015. The objective of this programme is to create awareness among the public about the hazards of e-waste recycling by the unorganised sector and to educate them about the alternative methods of disposing their e-waste.
As we have seen that e-waste is emerging as a serious public health and environmental issue in India, and India has become the fifth largest electronic waste producer in the world, thus, it is the need of the hour to check and formulate such strategies and measures which can control the e-waste generation and dispose them safely.
We should use effective e-waste recycling methods instead of switching the dangerous incineration method. More than any laws and rules, it requires a collective effort from the consuner, the producer and the government to handle, manage and dispose the e-waste efficiently.
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