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June 05, 2018

Essay : e-Waste

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e-Waste Digital Dark Side

  • What is e-waste ? 
  • e-Waste having different metals releases toxins.
  • Need of environment-friendly techniques to extract harmful materials.
  • Method of recycling should be adopted. 
  • Need of scientific techniques for waste disposal. 
  • Awareness of the hazardous side of e-waste should be created. 
  • Only collective effort of all can handle the problem.
We are living in a world driven by technology and the technology is evolving at a rapid pace. The mobiles have given way to smartphones, television has given way to LED and LCD and desktops have given way to laptops and tablets. The moment, a new model of a product is launched in the market, the previous one becomes obsolete. Most of the time, the obsolete stuff is discarded as a waste product. These unwanted, non-working or obsolete electronic products which have reached the end of their shelf life are known as e-waste. These include the discarded electronic products such as computers, mobiles, televisions, washing machines, refrigerators etc to name a few.

The developed countries produce millions of tonnes of e-waste every year. Even worse, the e-waste from the developed countries such as the US, Japan is being illegally transported and dumped in the developing countries such as China, Malaysia, Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, and India. The costs of treatment of e-waste are high in the developed countries. It is the relatively low cost of shipment that prompts the transportation of the waste from the developed to the developing countries.

In the developing countries, this waste is dumped into landfills, incinerators and ill-equipped recycling facilities. The local residents, factory owners, and the workers are free to collect the valuable items from this waste as per their needs. Most of them collect whatever is useful to them leaving behind the rest. Methods such as acid baths and burning of electronics are used for the recovery of the useful material. These methods in turn pose serious health issues and can be harmful to the individuals who are involved in these.

The construction of circuit boards, electrical parts such as monitors, mother boards, wires etc involves the use of potentially harmful metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, copper, cadmium, nickel, zinc, gold, silver, beryllium etc. When dumped into the landfills, these metals are known to release harmful toxins that may reach from the soil into the environment and cause health issues to animals and humans alike. There are chances that the chemicals may percolate into the ground resulting in land and water pollution. Polychlorinated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers are the important components of e-waste and have dangerous side effects.

These toxins and chemicals cause birth-defects, kidney, liver, heart and skeletal system damage. Besides, they are known to have a deteriorating effect on the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body. The burning of the computer monitors results in cancer producing dioxins. The hydrochloroflourocarbons (HCFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are present in air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines.

They are the causative agents of ozone depletion. These toxins also bio-accumulate through the food chains and food webs and cause a serious threat to all species on the planet.

The rampantly growing environmental footprint of the e-waste is indeed a cause of worry. It is the responsibility of both the consumers and producers to manage the growing e-waste. Most of the electronic material has a certain amount of reusable component associated with it. This reusable component includes metals such as copper, aluminium, lead and iron etc. Special environment-friendly techniques need to be devised in order to extract this material safely from the waste material.

The producers as well as the authorised recyclers need to incentivise the recycling model. The producers can enter the recycling chain by providing a collection service and a repurchase offer better than that of the unorganised sector. The consumers have a natural tendency to recover the economic value from their waste and this is where the opportunity lies. The consumers can be provided with financial incentives in order to make them enter the formal recycle chain. They need to be encouraged to get the defunct gadgets and electronic items out of their house. Many companies like Dell, Apple and HP have started various recycling schemes. The concept of 3 R's i.e. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle can play a significant role in e-waste management.

We, the citizens, need to understand our responsibility towards the environment also. We should not resort to the mindless dumping of the functional electronic gadgets in exchange for a technologically advanced model. Instead of reckless dumping, a better option will be to donate or re-sell the items. The regulatory authorities can classify the waste material into different grades and provide guidelines for the decomposition of waste in each category.

It is better some scientific techniques are devised which can be helpful in the waste disposal instead of incineration or such harmful techniques. In India, most of the e-waste recycling is in the hands of informal sector which is not much regulated. We need to provide vocational training to the unskilled workers involved in this unregulated industry. These workers 4/11, need to be made aware of the various occupational hazards related to the mishandling of e-waste and be trained on the lines of the scientific management of e-waste. The formal and informal sector can be clubbed together in order to provide better waste management. Besides, the producers must try to incorporate environment friendly raw material in the manufacturing of the final products.

People need to be made aware of the e-waste and its hazardous side effects. The government, educational institutes and the NGOs need to come forward to contribute their share. The government needs to come up with strict rules regarding e-waste and their proper implementation should be taken care of. Defaulters need to be penalised heavily.

Special incentives such as tax benefits could be provided to the organisations who take the responsibility for the disposal of their outdated products. The children need to be taught about the growing menace of e-waste and the ways to tackle it. NGOs can play an important role in creating awareness, collecting waste and providing ideas for better waste management.

e-Parisaraa is an excellent initiative for the management of e-waste in the Indian context. Bengaluru produces 8000 tonnes of computer waste annually which eventually ends up with scrap dealers. e-Parisaraa, an eco-friendly recycling unit on the outskirts of the city, is India's first e-waste recycling unit. It aims to reduce pollution and landfill waste along with recovering valuable metals, plastics and glass in an eco-friendly way.

The United Nations Environment Programme created the Basel convention in 1989 in order to keep a check on the rising e-waste menace. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change under the Government of India has notified e-waste Management Rules 2016 in order to keep a check and enable proper management of the e-waste. More than any laws and rules, it requires a collective effort from the consumer, the producer and the government to handle, manage and dispose the e-waste efficiently.

Difficult Words with Meanings :
  • Obsolete no longer used because something new has been invented
  • Prompts to make somebody decide to do something, to cause something to happen
  • Incinerator a container which is closed on all sides for burning waste at high temperatures
  • Percolate to move gradually through a surface that has very small holes or spaces in it
  • Rampantly something bad existing or spreading everywhere in a way that cannot be controlled
  • Incentivise to encourage somebody in a particular way by offering them a reward
  • Tendency an inclination towards a particular characteristic or type of behaviour
  • Defunct no longer existing, operating or being used
  • Resort the act of using something, especially something bad or unpleasant, because nothing else is possible
  • Reckless showing a lack of care about danger and the possible results of your actions
  • Incineration the process of burning something until it is completely destroyed
  • Menace a person or thing that is annoying or causes trouble.
shared by Nisheeta Mirchandani
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