The global E-waste issue and why is it’s a problem.
The E-Waste issue stands for the problem of electronic waste at a global level. Examples include old smartphones, TVs, laptops, DVD players, music systems, microwave ovens, monitors, and all such old devices that use electricity. The e-waste consists of all the electronic products which have reached the end of their useful life and are outdated, unusable, and broken. We can also term it as electronic garbage, dumped and not required by the public at large.
More than 90% of this e-waste is harmful to the environment as we can recycle only about 10% of the material. All that non-recycled waste is polluting the landfills or illegally exported.
We generate a mind-boggling 50 million tonne of waste every year, and it is increasing every year at a much faster pace. We dump 90% of such devices as garbage. Here are some of the fundamental problems faced by the environment of planet Earth every single day.
The E-waste material contains too many chemicals that are harmful to human beings as well as the environment. The laundry list of such chemical substances goes on an on. They include Mercury, Lead, Zinc, Nickel, Barium, Brominated Flame Retardants, Cadmium, and PVC plastic. E.g., Lead is so dangerous that it damages the nervous system, blood, and kidneys badly.
MISHANDLING OF E-WASTE
Ideally, If we systematically handle the e-waste, we can mostly solve the global issue of the e-waste. But rampant abuse during disposal of such electronic items releases chemicals in a very unsafe way. These chemicals eventually settle in the water, air, or soil, thereby harming our ecology on an enormous scale.
ILLEGAL EXPORT TO DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Many criminals’ networks are engaged in the illegal export of these e-waste items to the developing countries where the regulations are not strict. With the increased availability of new devices, old devices are getting discarded faster and quickly making their way to these countries.
Again, the mishandling in these countries leads to a much higher release of harmful chemicals in the environment.
UNSAFE WORKING CONDITIONS
Most of these gadgets contain some valuable materials which sell at higher rates. The working conditions of people who recover such materials are too miserable. They die much ahead of their age due to severe diseases caused by hazardous substances.
In underdeveloped or developing countries, the situation is worse than in other places. The human value index is at an all-time low. E.g., Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in TVs and monitors are too hazardous, and we should not handle them. In California, the law of the land strictly prohibits dealing in CRT of old monitors and TVs
In many countries, due to loose regulations, child labor is forced into unsafe work. The occupational conditions for all e-waste workers are pathetic and need urgent attention.
SPEED OF E-WASTE GENERATION
On average, most of the American buy a new cell phone in 12 to 18 months. It means that they are generating e-waste for old mobiles at the same speed. The issue is taking serious proportions all over the globe. According to one of the studies, the E-waste is rising 8% by weight every two years. If we continue to grow our e-waste at such a fast speed, we are doubling the size of our problems every two years with cascading adverse effects on other aspects of the environment.
E-waste contains valuable components that should be recovered by proper recycling techniques. But unregulated recycling defeats the very purpose of recycling. The risk of toxic exposure is exceptionally high for recyclers, including women and children.
We are recycling only 25% of e-waste with enough worker protection. Indirect exposure through environmental contamination is potentially hazardous to the public at large.
The risk thresholds of developed countries should not be different from developing countries. The developed countries are dumping e-waste to other countries where the risk threshold is measured differently. These non-standard risk thresholds lead to the exploitation of the environment.
DISMANTLING INSTEAD OF REFURBISHING
Many recycles dismantle the e-waste fully to recover valuable material in an unsafe manner. Wherever possible, we should refurbish E-waste instead of dismantling. Many refurbished products look as good as new and save some substantial money for you.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO WITH THE GLOBAL E-WASTE ISSUE?
We can contribute by addressing the problem of e-waste in the following manner:
1. REDUCE THE GENERATION
It can be done at a collective level by all of us. We should avoid the purchase of new devices if we can afford to. The novelty comes at a price, which we pay in terms of environmental cost. We will save some money if we postpone our purchase. Thus, we can contribute to society in a novel way.
2. REUSE OLD STUFF
We may also try to find new uses for old devices. E.g., old mobile’s camera used as a webcam. We may sell, donate, or gift them. We may also consider collecting antique pieces, which may sell at insane prices after many decades. We may discover alternative uses of existing old devices.
3. REPAIR BROKEN DEVICES
We have a habit of discarding out of order devices instead of repairing them. A simple DIY project can help you fix the gadget yourself. Sometimes, you may find it as simple as connecting a broken wire. By repairing, we reduce the pressure on the production and usage of new devices, eventually reducing e-waste generation. If the repairs are affordable, you will get to use the same product for many more years.
4. RECYCLE CORRECTLY
There are many responsible recycling units, which systematically recycle e-waste without any associated risks. Many big retailers and manufacturers have a full-fledged policy of collecting and recycling e-waste of their product lines.
E-waste is one of the fastest ways of generating waste on our planet Earth. Ethically, we should not pollute a place that is our home for millions of years. Why are we polluting our drinking water, the air we breathe, and the soil which gives us food? Let us ponder this global issue and take a vow to solve it by educating others and setting an example for others