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Technology

E-waste: The Nightmare of Technology

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The technological boom has brought myriad luxuries into human life. Today, our homes, offices, playgrounds, and even restrooms are equipped with modern gadgets, easing our day-to-day businesses. But little do we know the price we’re paying for these comforts. Since every man-made machine has a “working life”, tons of electronic products are disposed of every year as “Digital Rubbish”.

Broken laptop computer on a pile of electronic waste ewaste

One might wonder what Digital Rubbish is. Basically, it’s another term for e-waste, denoting all the electronic products which lived their working life and are of no further use. Everything working electronically, like smartphones, computer chips, laptops, xerox machines, LED TVs, remotes etc., become e-waste when discarded.

Electronic items that end up in your bins release toxic chemicals that are extremely dangerous to the environment and soil. When e-waste is buried or burnt, these chemicals leach out from the silicon and plastic present in electronic chips. In this era, e-waste has become a nightmare for technological advancement and the earth’s environment.

Let’s talk about e-waste, its origination and types, its hazards and effects, and why it’s important to recycle it.

Why is E-waste Even A Problem?

When describing e-waste, one should not be limited only to malfunctioned or broken electronic devices. The gadgets that are going obsolete due to rapid technological advancement also contribute to this menace. Such devices work perfectly fine, but we no longer use them because we have a better and more concise option. Consider the tape recorders that got replaced with iPods, the DVD players with Blu-ray players, and so on. Even Blu-ray players have become a rare sight because almost everything is available on Netflix and YouTube. These broken, unwanted, obsolete, and malfunctioned electronic devices are buried in landfills or burnt worldwide every year.

  • E-Waste Contains Toxins

Electronics are indeed safe to use above ground, but electronics are made up of metals and plastic. The metals include mercury, lead, silicon, cadmium, and beryllium, which cause serious threats to our soil, air, wildlife, and water. When buried, these metals catch rust and excrete their microscopic particles. These tiny traces slowly dissolve in the soil and make it acidic.

  • Toxins Affect the Water Sources

When the metals pile up under the soil due to over burial, the toxins contaminate the groundwater. Since the groundwater is continuously flowing towards the water resources – lakes, wells, ponds – it pollutes them too. Resultantly, the wildlife and the natural ecosystem is disrupted.

  • E-Waste Releases Greenhouse Gasses

When burnt, plastics and metals from e-waste generate greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. These gasses are hazardous to the atmosphere and contribute the most to global warming. Last year’s COP26 summit on climate change was highly concerned about the progress of member countries toward the ‘Zero Emission goal.

E-waste Types

E-waste originates from almost every domain that utilizes electronic devices. Some common categories are mentioned below.

Household AppliancesCommunication DevicesEntertainment UtilitiesElectronic GadgetsOffice & Healthcare Equipment
MicrowavesSmartphonesBlu Ray playersMassage ChairsServers
OvensDesktop PCSoundbarsRemote controlsCables/cords
Electric stovesLaptopsStereosLampsDialysis machines
Electric heatersCircuit boardsTVsTreadmillsWi-fi dongles
FansRAMsGaming systemsSmartwatchesPower supplies
Vacuum cleanerHard drivesFax machinesFitbitX-ray machines
Juicers/mixersChargersPrinters Autoclave

E-waste Generated in 2021

October 14th is celebrated worldwide as E-waste Day. In 2021, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum (WEEE) published an article to raise awareness regarding the hazards of e-waste mishandling. This article raised alarms by claiming that in 2021 only, the estimated electronic waste collected was 57.4 million tonnes. This whopping amount of e-waste goes even more than it was in 2019 and weighs more than the Great Wall of China. This growth in e-waste is attributed to increasing electronics consumption, new products released every day, and reduced third-party repairing options.

Approximately 151 million smartphones are discarded in the U.S. every year. The e-waste generated in the U.K., Canada, and China is nothing less. WEEE Forum also indicated the importance of e-waste recycling to mitigate the environmental impacts and health risks.

Impact of E-waste: Health and Environment

The outcomes of improper e-waste disposal at dumping sites are highly daunting. It makes the soil contaminated, but it puts everything else living on it in danger. The water coming out of the contaminated soil, the crops growing on the soil, the humans cultivating those crops, and the wildlife relying on it are all on thin ice.

  • Impact on Human Health

As mentioned earlier, e-waste comprises toxic components – metals and plastics. These components harm the human body, including the nervous system, reproductive system, bones, heart, brain, and kidneys. We hardly heard about someone dealing with cancer, liver diseases, or diabetes two decades back, but nowadays, these diseases are quite common to notice. Moreover, the disruption of the ecosystem due to e-waste gave rise to new diseases that were never heard by anyone a few decades back.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, about 20 million women labor in the waste industry, putting themselves and their unborn children at risk. A pregnant woman exposed to e-waste hazards can risk premature and stillbirth. Besides, the newborn can be associated with growth deficiencies, ADHD, and sensory integration problems. Other critical effects related to e-waste are poor lung functioning, DNA damage, weak thyroid functioning, and heart diseases.

  • Environmental Impact

The impact of e-waste on the earth’s environment is staggering. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, more than 40% of e-waste from the U.S. ends up in landfills or incinerators. That’s enough toxins from one industry to contaminate the earth for thousands of years!

E-waste also negatively impacts air quality by contributing to ozone depletion. E-waste contains ozone-depleting substances like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and greenhouse gasses which destroy the ozone layer over time by breaking down ozone molecules. Ozone depletion occurs when CFCs are released into the atmosphere at low altitudes, a significant cause of global warming.

The impact of e-waste on the water is something most of us don’t want to think about. A recent study showed that water supplies worldwide are becoming contaminated by electronic waste or e-waste. The study found that locations where e-waste is improperly disposed have substantially higher lead content in their water than in areas with no e-waste.

The most concerning element of this study was the finding that even low levels of lead in water could cause damage to developing children’s brains and nervous systems. This means that it is essential to limit e-waste, especially around areas where children or pregnant women spend time.

How is Europe Dealing with E-waste?

The alarming rise in e-waste caught European Union’s attention in 2003. The EU formed Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) to address the issue, which was fully operated in 2014. The primary objective of the WEEE Directive is to regulate and spread awareness about e-waste recycling among the member states. The directive also banned the use of various harmful components used in manufacturing electronic products. In 2010, North Macedonia and Western Balkan states embraced a law regulating batteries and accumulators. Two years later, the same states adopted another law regulating electronic and electrical goods. Serbia also joined the race of the e-waste recycling pool in 2010 by adopting a law on regulating electronic waste and special waste streams.

According to the stats of October 2019, 78 countries worldwide have shown huge interest in recycling e-waste to control e-waste mishandling. Every year, these countries devise and adopt different policies, regulations, and legislation to monitor e-waste. Yet, there’s little interest in following these policies. That’s why it’s become nothing less than a challenge among all the countries globally to fully develop e-waste management laws that are legally binding, not just programmatic.

Five Solutions to E-waste Recycling

E-waste is a huge problem, and the resources being used up on our electronic items have become a major cause of concern. In the last few years, to reduce such concerns, there has been an increase in recycling centres for e-waste. Recycling centres are trying their best to properly dispose of e-waste in an environment-friendly way. But still, the general public is not aware of what items from their home can be recycled and which cannot. But if you are really serious about helping your home and yourself go green, you need to know the best way to recycle e-waste.

I’ve put together a list of 10 things you can do!

1. Limit Frequent Buying

One of the easiest ways to recycle your mobile phone or e-waste is to just buy fewer electronics. We’re not saying you need to start living out of a cave or anything, but you should at least consider making do with what you have for a little longer before buying a new phone, laptop, or TV. The average lifespan of an electronic device is around two years. That might not seem all that bad but consider this: most of us are replacing those devices every two years. That means we’re chucking even more stuff into landfills than we realize.

While there are various other things you can do to reduce your e-waste (like recycling old devices and donating them), it can be a great first step to just make an effort to use the stuff that’s already in your possession for a little longer. Think about it! If every person in America just increased the lifetime of their electronics by six months, that would really add up.

2. Donate Your E-waste to Charity

Most people don’t know they have the option to donate their e-waste to a charity. Donating your e-waste is a great way to recycle and save the environment, but you may not be donating all of it. Did you know that when you donate your old electronics to charity, only 10% of them actually get recycled? That’s right. The rest goes into a dumping site. Unfortunately, this means that the electronics in your home could end up breaking down at an extremely slow rate and taking up space forever and damaging the environment.

But don’t you want to help keep our planet from becoming overpopulated with electronic waste? Instead of letting something break down for years or decades, why not donate it to charity? The good news is that there are a lot of very reputable charities out there that accept e-waste for recycling, so it’s never too late to start.

3. Look for Drop-off Recycling Stores

If you want to recycle your e-waste in a way that’s easily accessible, we suggest looking into drop-off recycling booths at stores in your area. In-store recycling booths are very popular and common these days. You only need to drop off your unwanted electronics at these booths, and the store staff will take care of the rest. Not only will you get to know about your options for recycling old electronics, but you will also make sure your e-waste doesn’t end up in landfills or accidentally thrown out with your regular trash.

So, next time you want to get rid of your old phone or computer, try recycling booths instead of throwing it away.

4. Buy Eco-friendly Electronics

Various companies offer environment-friendly electronics that you can use instead of traditional ones. There are multiple benefits of using eco-friendly electronics. They are safe for the environment and help you reduce your overall e-waste. They are also just as functional as non-eco-friendly electronic products.

So, start reducing your e-waste and consider buying eco-friendly electronic items in the future. By choosing devices made from recycled materials or biodegradable products, you’ll be doing your part to help conserve the earth’s resources.

5. Try Green Technology

It’s beyond doubt that old and broken smartphones are the major chunk of electronic waste. Another thing that comes in handy with your phone and is equally responsible for plastic pollution is the SIM card. Out of 380 million tonnes of plastic produced in 2020, 4.5 billion were SIM cards. A typical SIM card is not only comprised of plastic but metal too.

Normally, when you are travelling, you might buy a local SIM card at your destination and throw it away when you return home. Technically, it’s also e-waste. Even if you go for a biodegradable SIM card, you won’t find it easily in the market. But there are a few network companies worldwide committed to reducing electronic and plastic waste in order to promote environmental sustainability.

For example, Talk Home, a U.K. based MVNO, has introduced Talk Home App, which can be used as an alternative to SIM cards for making international calls. That’s not it; Talk Home App’s international calling rates are cheaper than almost all other mobile networks in the U.K.

Another service from Talk Home that’s contributing toward a clean and green environment is Talk Home Rechargeable Calling Cards. These calling cards can also help reduce plastic and paperweight because you can recharge the same card every time you run out of credit. Therefore, it’s high time you start using such services to play your part in protecting the environment.

Conclusion

In a perfect world, every electronic gadget would be made to last as long as possible, and recycling laws would ensure that e-waste was handled properly from the time it was manufactured to its time in the dumpster. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. You can certainly do things to reduce your e-waste, but even that can be difficult considering how fast new technologies come out.

So, with this in mind, be sure to choose your preferred digital devices carefully, to ensure that you don’t find yourself disheartened by a poor-quality product that you’ve now had to replace too soon. Addressing the world of e-waste is something that each of us can do, however small the action may seem. It’s a good way to both save money and contribute a little bit to protecting the planet we live on.

FAQs

How To Recycle E-waste?

Don’t just throw it away when you’re done with your old laptop or cell phone. You can look up your local recycling centre and see what they accept. Some may even accept obscure electronics like turntables and VHS players. If you don’t have a recycling centre near you, you can always drop your electronic devices off at eBay or any local retailer. And if none of that is an option, take it back to where you bought it and see if they’ll take it back. You can also donate your unwanted electronics to charity because “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

How Much E-waste Is Generated Each Year?

According to ‘The World Counts’ – a website that keeps track of electronic waste dumped every second – humans produce 50 million tonnes of electronic waste each year. This amount of e-waste is the same as dumping 1000 laptops each second.

How Much E-waste Can Be Recycled?

Currently, only 12.5% of the world’s e-waste is properly processed and recycled. For every 1 million smartphones picked up from dumpsters and recycled, 16000 kgs of copper, 350 kgs of silver, 34 kgs of gold, and 15 kgs of palladium can be retrieved.

Where Is E-waste Recycled?

E-waste is recycled in a few ways. The first way is by gathering the waste and burning it to get rid of it. This method is effective, but it isn’t sustainable or environmentally friendly. The second-way e-waste can be recycled is by taking the parts apart and selling them to consumers who want them. This method helps promote reuse and extends the lifetime that electronics can be used. The third way e-waste can be recycled is through repurposing, which means that a factory takes the electronic waste and turns it into new items sold on the market. This method also encourages the reuse of materials, but it also provides an economic benefit to the factory by allowing them to make money off of items that would otherwise end up in landfills.

How To Recycle E-waste Properly?

Gather all your e-waste in one place. E-waste can include old cell phones, laptops, tablets, and computers. You may also want to gather things like printers, gaming systems, and any other electronic device that you’ve decided to replace. Find a local recycling centre or drop-off location once you’ve gathered your e-waste. Many areas have centres dedicated to recycling e-waste and other electronics. You can likely find them by doing a quick internet search for “e-waste recycle centre [your area].”

Bring your items to the recycling centre. The most recycling centre will take all kinds of electronics, but it is always good to call ahead before you bring any items in. Some centres may refuse certain kinds of electronics due to hazards or lack of equipment for processing them.

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