E-waste Generation – A Threat to the Green, a Threat to Existence!

Posted on June 29, 2010 in unEarthed

Akshay Subramaniam:

With the advent of multinational companies, factories and processing units we glow in the glory of the rapid development and prosperity. But beauty as always is just skin deep. Many of us hardly realize it. With electronic and electrical companies trying to meet the needs of the current generation, they generate a kind of waste that is hard to dispose. In this article I would like to focus on e-waste and the dexterity involved in its disposal.

Why so serious?

E-waste can include computer central processing units, monitors, televisions, cell phones, pagers, i-pods, cathode ray tubes and other digital devices. The main source of e-waste is computers. Metallic compounds that are a major threat to the environment, like polyvinyl chloride, copper, arsenic, lead, cadmium, manganese, iron, cobalt, gold, beryllium and mercury are present in the electronic items including circuit boards, it are responsible for environmental pollution, causing health problems particularly in children. They can also lead to neurological disorders and cancer. The lax disposal of this waste into water bodies’ results in a threat to aquatic life and incineration of this waste causes air pollution. Currently landfills are being used in certain regions but as the waste keeps piling up, exposure to the hazardous chemicals keeps on increasing. Dealing with electronic waste is a daunting task because there are no proper ways of disposing them!

With technology developing rapidly, computers turn obsolete quicker and we end up in more and more e-waste. The lifetime and diminishing rates of electronic goods makes the situation even worse for the environment. Every year there is a sheer rise in the number of Internet users and with everything becoming computerized, e-waste is becoming a prime concern to be dealt with.

E-waste in India:

Experts predict that in 20 years, developing nations will be discarding 400-700 million personal computers annually. Developed nations, by contrast, will be throwing out 200-300 million a year. There is wide gap in the numbers, the reason for this mainly being the cheaper cost of disposal in developing countries. In US it costs approximately about 20 dollars to recycle a computer but in India it takes only 2 US dollars. This leads to an import of electronic waste to the developing countries. Tila Byehta, a village on the outskirts of New Delhi is the dumping ground for various electrical and electronic devices that we use. The villagers dismantle, refurbish and recycle the e-waste ‘manually’ thus posing a threat to their lives. It has been told that plastic coatings on copper wires are burned off and the water is polluted with the acids and cyanides used in extracting various metallic components from the circuit boards. These villagers are humbly willingly to do whatever they can to earn their daily share of bread.

Prevention:

The simplest method to encourage people to recycle their electronic goods would be to charge them extra whenever they buy an electronic item, and reimburse it when they return the obsolete product.

Conventional methods of disposal like open burning and land filling must be avoided.

Companies should be encouraged to use lesser hazardous chemicals in manufacturing electronic goods and must prevent any manual disposal of the waste.

Proper disposal of the waste is done in a series of three steps namely detoxication, shredding and refining. However the efficiency of these methods is low.

Alternative methods such as cryogenic decomposition have been studied for printed circuit board recycling, and some other methods are still under investigation.

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