‘Current’ Problem: Electronic Waste!
Posted on: February 6, 2019.

Author: Courtesy: iqsdirectory.com

In 1998, an Indian family bought a brand new microwave oven for domestic use. In 2018, twenty years later, the domestic oven was still working. In 2017, somebody purchased an iPhone upgrade and a protective case. Four months later, with a splintered screen from a few bounces on the floor, that person must purchase a new phone.

This anecdote makes a vital point about electronics in this fast-moving technology age: they just don’t make them like they used to, and also raises an important question: “What should we do with electronic devices we don’t use anymore?” This forms the premise of the problematic issue of e-waste.

Waste can be categorized under numerous types and kinds, and has multiple sources, but the world’s fastest-polluting source, is a particular category called “electronic waste” or e-waste, which is mostly dead electronics! The country that generates the most e-waste is the United States—50,000 dump trucks full of dead electronics recycled every year!

How much e-waste is generated?

To give you an idea of just how much e-waste is generated, research estimates the number of cell phones purchased in 2017 at 1.5 billion units, roughly one for every five people on the planet! Very soon they would reach the end of their lifespan, and become e-waste. According to United Nations’ estimates, 44.7 million tons of e-waste was created in 2016, of which only 20% was properly eliminated.

Every household in the United States has at least one television, and that is a lot of electronics, roughly 140 million units, that will eventually be reduced to e-waste. Though technology is most likely changing our lives for the better, electronics often malfunction, and unlike the 30-year-old mixer that refuses to die, new technology is rendered dead more quickly. Consumers and the environment would have to face dire consequences if things are thrown out instead of being repaired.

“Electronic Pollution”

Nearly 50 million tons of e-waste has been generated worldwide in recent years—about 6.8 kilograms per person—and according to projected estimates, the near future will witness a 33% growth in the volume of electronic waste, worldwide. With China generating 11.1 million tons last year, and the U.S. a 10 million tons, according to UN estimates, e-waste has become the world’s fastest-polluting waste source.

E-waste contains hundreds of different materials and toxic substances like lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and flame retardants, which make their way into landfills and seep into the environment, contaminating land, air, and water, and the people who dismantle these devices in primitive conditions suffer frequently from a range of illnesses.

It is legal to export e-waste to poor countries if they can be reused, but under false pretences, Asia and Africa are being dumped with tons of e-waste, and there is no means to keep track of exactly how much e-waste is being spread across the continents. Results brought forth by a study from MIT found in 2010 that of all e-waste generated in the United States—millions of discarded computers, monitors, TVs and mobile phones— only 66% was recycled and the rest ended up in Hong Kong, Latin American, and the Caribbean.

E-waste in the form of outdated/low-end/dead electronics, especially smartphones, getting dumped in landfills, is set to increase as newer smartphone models and other upgraded devices are flooding the market. Furthermore, the circuit boards of smartphones and other portable entertainment devices are made of precious “rare earth” metals such as gold, copper, beryllium, zinc, and tantalum. The coatings include lead and the batteries include lithium. Mining for rare earth elements to incorporate at various levels in the manufacturing of electronics will eventually lead to shortages of these “rare earth” elements.

Managing E-Waste by Recycling

Satellite-based tracking systems are being deployed by businessmen and manufacturers to track their e-waste and monitor how far it goes. A London-based e-waste dealer embedded a satellite tracking device in one of the television sets despatched for recycling. Astonishingly, that television made a 4,500-mile journey from shipping docks in the UK to the Alaba Electronics Market in Lagos, Nigeria, the largest in Africa.

While underdeveloped and developing countries—that get dumped with tons of e-waste that cannot be repaired and reused—have become a haven for exporters of electronic waste, the lives of people who pick through the rubbish heaps of electronics in an ever-worsening state of decay, are at great risk. Nearly 500,000 tons of e-waste goes unaccounted for every year in Great Britain, and with hazardous e-waste being illegally exported as part of a black market worth millions, its equipment laws place a responsibility on manufacturers to meet the environmental costs of their e-waste.

And it isn’t only our digital devices that contribute to e-waste. Even solar panels—so-called green technology—add to the e-waste profile as they contain toxic metals that can damage the human nervous system, and chromium and cadmium, which are established carcinogens. As these toxins are known to leach out of e-waste dumps and contaminate water supplies, it is high time for humans to return to the traditional method of repairing broken items instead of replacing them.

Courtesy: iqsdirectory.com

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