E-Waste And Its Importance for Recycling

One of the best gifts of modern day technology is electronics. It won’t be exaggerated if we consider our lives electronically oriented. Almost everything is electronically controlled or monitored. But serving its purpose for a period of time electronic good has a tendency to become non-functional and also with the rapid growth in the electronics industry, it becomes obsolete quickly. Now the question arises what happens to those trashed items. The obvious answer is E-WASTE or END OF LIFE ( EOL) ELECTRONICS.

A picture of E-Waste disposal from Agbogbloshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a term for electronic products that have become unwanted, non-working or obsolete, and have essentially reached the end of their useful life. E-waste is created from anything electronic: computers, TVs, monitors, cell phones, PDAs, VCRs, CD players, fax machines, printers, etc. Most electronics that are incongruously discarded contain some form of inimical materials such as beryllium, cadmium, mercury, and lead. These materials might be trace elements, but when integrated up in volume, the threat to the environment is paramount. Besides integrating inimical elements to the environment, incongruous disposal of e-waste is a recycling opportunity lost. Virtually all electronic waste contains some form of recyclable material, including plastic, glass, and metals.

Photo of a computer, machine, monitor, electronics, CRT, waste, trash, cables, pc, scrap, monitors etc.

The environmental impact of the processing of different electronic waste components

E-waste component

Process used

Potential Environmental Hazard

Cathode ray tubes (used in TVs, computer monitors, ATM, video cameras, and more)

Breaking and removal of yoke, then dumping

Lead, barium and other heavy metals leaching into the groundwater and release of toxic phosphor

Printed circuit board (image behind table – a thin plate on which chips and other electronic components are placed

Desoldering and removal of computer chips; open burning and acid baths to remove metals after chips are removed

Air emissions and discharge into rivers of glass dust, tin, lead, brominated dioxin, beryllium cadmium, and mercury

Chips and other gold-plated components

Chemical stripping using nitric and hydrochloric acid and burning of chips

PAHs, heavy metals, brominated flame retardants discharged directly into rivers acidifying fish and flora. Tin and lead contamination of surface and groundwater. Air emissions of brominated dioxins, heavy metals, and PAHs

Plastics from printers, keyboards, monitors, etc

Shredding and low temp melting to be reused

Emissions of brominated dioxins, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons

Computer wires

Open burning and stripping to remove copper

PAHs released into the air, water, and soil.

Importance of recycling e-waste:

  • Extraction of precious raw materials: E-waste contains deposits of precious metal estimated to be between 40 and 50 times richer than ores mined from the earth, according to the United Nations. Only 10-15 percent of the gold in e-waste is successfully recovered while the rest is lost.
  • To prevent from mixing toxic substance into the environment: By dismantling and providing reuse possibilities, intact natural resources are conserved and air and water pollution caused by hazardous disposal are avoided. Additionally, recycling reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emitted by the manufacturing of new products.
  • To maintain proper solid waste management: The rate of generation of e-waste which basically solid in nature is significantly increased with time which in return affecting the solid waste management.
  • Transportation hazardous e-waste: The uncontrolled transportation of e-waste to countries where frugal labor and primitive approaches to recycling have resulted in health risks to local denizens exposed to the relinquishment of toxins perpetuates to an issue of concern.

In the US alone, more than 100 million computers are thrown away with less than 20% being recycled properly. The EPA estimates as much as 60 million metric tons enter landfills every year. According to a recent article published in The Hindu India has emerged as the second largest mobile market with 1.03 billion subscribers, but also the fifth largest producer of e-waste in the world, discarding roughly 18.5 lakh metric tonnes of electronic waste each year, with telecom equipment alone accounting for 12 percent of the e-waste.

Source: Wikipedia, The Balance

Mr. Ankur Jyoti Sarmah is presently working as a Guest lecturer in the Department of Electronics & Telecommunication Engineering of Assam Engineering College, Guwahati. He completed his Bachelors in Electronics & Communication Engineering from Annamalai University and Masters of Technology in Control Systems from Manipal Institute of Technology. A well-decorated teacher with a scientific endeavor for learning has a healthy experience of working at the National Aerospace Laboratory, Bangalore. He also holds a handful of scientific publications in the field of signal processing and communication.