Amidst the continuous growth of the electronics industry is the inevitable issue concerning e-waste. A January 2019 report by the World Economic Forum states that it is currently the fastest-growing waste material with approximately 48.5 million metric ton of waste stream. What so many people still don’t realise though is that this non-biodegradable junk is still profitable.
In this article we’re going to look at e-waste disposal, refurbishing and selling and why it’s so critical to you and the planet.
What is E-waste?
Electronics waste, also known as e-waste or e-scrap, are unused and discarded electronic devices. Remnants procured from a wide variety of gadgets such as mobile phones, MACs, computers, and TV are also recognized as electronic junk. And depending on the owner’s decision, it is usually recycled, refurbished, reused, resale or directly disposed of.
These materials contain hazardous substances that can pose a threat to human health as well as to the environment. CPUs, for instance, carry perilous matter like lead and brominated flame retardants. It is why proper disposal and recycling is crucial. It is especially true for people in developing countries who are often dealing with the said job.
The Dangers of E-scrap to Environment & Humans
As mentioned, electronic rubbish contains high-risk substances. And with an approximately 50 million metric tons of e-waste generated last year— and China as the leading country with 7.2 million tonnes per year— it is apparent how it could cause a great threat to the ecosystem and human health.
In this section, you will learn how e-waste contaminates the ecosystem that can cause medical problems.
On Water & Soil
There are two ways e-scrap can pollute water: through (a) inappropriate recycling and disposal and (b) through landfills that are not built explicitly to hold e-waste.
Electronic remnants typically contain toxic by-products which can contaminate the water, soil, and air. This rubbish, however, also include precious and valuable metals. And because the destinations of these materials are often to developing countries, people tend to use this opportunity to earn money by recycling and selling precious metals they extract from the devices.
The procurement process, on the other hand, can lead to the production of toxic substances if not appropriately regulated. These dangerous materials are then released into local water sources—usually surface water— like streams and rivers, which eventually can cause harm to the ecosystem and human health. Improper disposal can impact groundwater as lead, arsenic and other chemicals may leach from dumpsites into the groundwater.
Furthermore, the same process can also affect and contaminate the soil. It usually occurs through (a) direct contact of e-waste contaminants created during the recycling stage and (b) via indirect irrigation of polluted water.
E-waste pollutes the air by improper disassembling, shredding, and burning. These materials are usually transported to developing countries where, due to lack of resources and knowledge, the recycling process is low quality. Workers often shred and burn the junk recklessly, allowing it to emit dangerous by-products into the air. Poorly managed burning, for instance, releases toxins like dioxins. It is a potent substance and can cause various health problems.
As a solution to electronic waste, the recycling of unused gadgets was recommended as the top disposal method all around the world. The WEEE or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, for instance, mandates each person in European countries to recycle at least 4kg of e-scrap. Manufacturers, together with small and large retailers, are required to fund recycling efforts as well.
Why Is It Important?
- Solid Waste Management. Due to the consistent rise of the electronics industry, the amount of solid waste generated every year has been growing. As such, people started e-scrap recycling to control and manage the production of solid waste.
- Toxic Substances. Improper disposal of unused devices could lead to the production of hazardous contaminants that are dangerous both to humans, animals, and the environment. To prevent such incidents, proper electronics recycling is crucial to ensure that toxic chemicals are not released into the ecosystem.
- Excellent Source of Raw Materials. According to the United Nations, e-waste contains precious metals that are about 40 to 50 times richer than ores. However, only 10% to 15% of valuable metals are procured from these devices internationally while the rest is lost. Hence, proper disassembling and sorting of these devices is essential to recover these valuable metals.
- International Movement of Dangerous Waste. Another reason to pursue e-waste recycling is due to health problems it could create. As mentioned, the transportation of electronic waste to third world countries where cheap labor and a low-quality approach is rampant causes a variety of health issues to individuals exposed to the toxic chemicals it emits.
Recycling and Proper Disposal
- Collection and Transportation. In this phase, authorities typically place a bin to gather and collect all waste materials. Once filled, they will then transport it to recycling facilities.
- Separation and Shredding. In this stage, workers will separate and sort out all scrap. Giant magnets are often used that will separate steel from iron.
- Selling as Recycled Materials. Once all materials are separated, they are then prepared and sold as recycled and valuable materials.
From smartphones to MacBooks, laptops and PCs, the amount of old electronic devices we fail to recycle or refurbish and sell on, is staggering and a sign of our growing throwaway culture. But the amount of rubbish and old scrap procured from these devices is growing at a rapid speed too. That is why having strict laws concerning e-waste is critical but so too is public awareness.
Whilst recycling or refurbishing old equipment correctly can generate good money, more importantly it is also helping to reduce the tons of e-waste put in landfill every year.