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E-WASTE – Recycling or Disposal, It’s a Challenge

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by - 12/19/2015 2058 Views

E-Waste Management

Defining  E-WASTE

E-waste is defined as old, end-of-life electronic appliances such as computers, laptops, TVs, DVD players, mobile phones, mp3 players, etc., which have been discarded after the end of life usage

E-waste scrap has been categorized into three main categories, i.e., Large Household Appliances, IT and Telecom and Consumer Equipment. Refrigerator and washing machine represent large household appliances; PC, monitor and laptop represent IT and Telecom, while TV represents Consumer Equipment.

Each of these e-waste items has been classified with respect to 26 common components found in them. These components form the ‘building blocks’ of each item and therefore they are readily ‘identifiable’ and ‘removable.’ These components are metal, motor/ compressor, cooling, plastic, insulation, glass, LCD, rubber, wiring/electrical, concrete, transformer, magnetron, textile, circuit board, fluorescent lamp, incandescent lamp, heating element, thermostat, brominated flamed retardant (BFR)-containing plastic, batteries, CFC/HCFC/HFC/HC, external electric cables, refractory ceramic fibers, radioactive substances and electrolyte capacitors (over L/D 25 mm).  

E-waste scrap is a combination of very diverse materials across different categories. It contains more than 1000 different substances, which fall under ‘hazardous’ and ‘non-hazardous’ categories. Broadly, it consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete and ceramics, rubber and other items. Iron and steel constitutes about 50% of the WEEE followed by plastics (21%), non-ferrous metals (13%) and other constituents. Non-ferrous metals consist of metals like copper, aluminium and precious metals, e.g. silver, gold, platinum, palladium, etc. The presence of elements like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium and hexavalent chromium and flame retardants beyond threshold quantities in WEEE/e-waste classifies them as hazardous waste.

The electronic and electrical goods are largely classified under three major heads, as: ‘white goods,’ comprising of household appliances like air conditioners, dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines; ‘brown goods,’ comprising of TVs, camcorders, cameras, etc.; ‘grey goods,’ like computers, printers, fax machines, scanners, etc. The grey goods are comparatively more complex to recycle due to their toxic composition.

Hazardous waste in landfills:

Huge amounts of e-waste scrap materials are disposed of every year, between 20 to 50 million metric tonnes, posing a tough challenge for human health threats from unsafe handling of the e-waste. Most of these discarded materials went to landfills or incinerators instead of recycling facilities, resulting in water and air contamination.

Hazardous materials in e-waste, like lead and mercury, can leach out of landfills into groundwater and incinerating the plastics in electronics emits cancer-causing dioxins and furans. The batteries in electronic products, such as laptop batteries, also contain heavy metals that can leak into groundwater supplies once the batteries erode.

Dangerous recycling operations:

Today approximately 20% of discarded e-waste scrap that are collected in the name of recycling, it’s estimated that between 50 to 80% of them never really get recycled, but instead are exported to developing countries, a much more profitable disposal method. Countries like China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Ghana, and Nigeria are considered as the dumping yards of e-waste scrap —which lack the infrastructure to safely manage hazardous waste—electronic components are openly burned, soaked in acid baths, dumped into rivers, or stockpiled for scrap recovery, creating serious environmental and health impacts due to the toxic lead, cadmium, barium, beryllium, mercury, and BFRs contained in the products. When many of these brominated flame retardants are burned, they emit deadly dioxin and furans, which workers and nearby residents may inhale, or which may land on crops and grass, and be absorbed via the food chain.

Hazards from recycling in workplace:

E-waste scrap recycling has the potential to cause harm even in workplaces in the U.S., particularly at facilities that are shredding electronics and processing CRT glass. While many recyclers know what materials to expect to find in older products, they don’t have an easy way to find out what new materials may be contained in newer products (including nanomaterials) or what hazards these materials might pose if the products are shredded. (Shredders generate airborne dust.)

In July 2014, the U.S. government’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released a report called, “Evaluation of Occupational Exposures at an Electronic Scrap Recycling Facility.”  This report found some troubling results including:

● Blood lead levels ranged up to 13.7 micrograms per deciliter of blood. A level of 10 or higher is considered high. Two employees had blood lead levels above 10.

● One employee was overexposed to lead in air. Two employees were overexposed to cadmium in air. Silica concentrations in air were well below occupational exposure limits.

● Lead was found on the clothing and skin of employees and on work surfaces.

● Employees were overexposed to noise.

● Employees worked in awkward positions, used forceful exertions, and performed repetitive motions. These activities can lead to musculoskeletal disorders.

● Potentially contaminated air was recirculated back into production areas.

While this was just one study of one recycler, these results suggest that we need to see much more focus on health and safety issues in the recycling sector.

Health and Environmental Impact of E-Waste:

EEEs are made of a multitude of components, some containing toxic substances that have an adverse impact on human health and the environment if not handled properly. Often, these hazards arise due to the improper recycling and disposal processes used. It can have serious repercussions for those in proximity to places where e-waste is recycled or burnt. Waste from the white and brown goods is less toxic as compared with grey goods. A computer contains highly toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, BFR, polyvinyl chloride and phosphor compounds.

Lead: exerts toxic effects on various systems in the body such as the central (organic affective syndrome) and peripheral nervous systems (motor neuropathy), the hemopoietic system (anemia), the genitourinary system (capable of causing damage to all parts of nephron) and the reproductive systems (male and female).

Mercury: cause damage to the genitourinary system (tubular dysfunction), the central and peripheral nervous systems as well as the fetus. When inorganic mercury spreads out in the water, it is transformed into methylated mercury, which bio-accumulates in living organisms and concentrates through the food chain, particularly by fish.

Cadmium: is a potentially long-term cumulative poison. Toxic cadmium compounds accumulate in the human body, especially in the kidneys. There is evidence of the role of cadmium and beryllium in carcinogenicity.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH): Affects lung, skin and bladder. Epidemiological studies in the past on occupational exposure to PAH provide sufficient evidence of the role of PAH in the induction of skin and lung cancers.

The Bottom Line: 

Till date, there are no proper methods being implemented even in the first world to eliminate the problem of e-waste. According to my understanding, I have found two interesting treatment of e-waste are recycling and refurbishing.

In recycling, there could be materials that cannot be recycled completely. PVC layers, for example, stay as the same for ages and cannot be recycled. It would be better if the manufacturers use recyclable material so that the e-waste is converted into something that can be re-used. We need to have a consensus to compel manufacturers of electronic goods to use green elements.

If electronics are refurbished, they can be sold again at a lower price. Thus, both the society and environment will benefit. Consider donating the electronic gadget to some charity that can either use it as such or get it repaired and use it.

Category : Electronics

Tags : E-Waste Scrap Mangement, E-Waste Scrap Price, E-Waste Scrap Disposal, E-Waste Scrap Market, E-Waste Scrap Definition


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About Georgy Abraham

As the bright morning of 28th May dawned in the year 1972, in the fulfillment of time according to the plan & will of Almighty Godbrought me forth into this world and I was brought up & educated in Orissa. My parents provided me with the best of education in an English medium school with high standa .... more info

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