E-Waste Problem, Hazards and Solutions

In most part of the world, underground water is not drinkable directly. Long ago, people simply used to draw up water from wells and drink it. But now, you have to use some sort of filter to purify the water and make it drinkable. Why? It is just one of the many problems and hazards of E-waste. The electronic devices, dead cells and batteries you throw away with other garbage contain lead that easily mixes with underground water, making it unfit for direct consumption. That is just the tip of the iceberg – the problems of e-waste disposal!

What is E-Waste

E-Waste management

Image Courtesy: Greanpeace Org

This word has caught up in the recent past only when someone studying the subject noted that our environment will be 3x more congested with e-waste by 2017. I did not save that tweet else I could have given you some reference. Even if it is not to be tripled, e-waste is growing in volumes… huge volumes. The reason whye-waste is increasing, is that technology is growing fast and in an attempt to get better devices, we casually get rid of old electronics – the best examples being that of smartphones.

One may ask the relationship between old electronics and e-waste. I would say, e-waste is actually the old electronic goods that people simply give away to garbage trucks that are then dumped into landfill or similar sites. Electronics have a number of harmful elements that react with air and water to create problems of e-waste such as water, air and soil pollution as well as problems that affect human beings in the form of diseases.

In the above example, we used old cells and batteries as an example. Most of the cheaper batteries are lead based and easily react with water (rain or moisture) to seep and mix with underground water along with polluting the soil and air where it was disposed by the garbage department.

Thus, everything that falls into electronics’ category, that you intend to throw away, is e-waste (electronic waste).  This includes computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and so on.There are proper methods to dispose off electronic items. They should be handled differently, but unfortunately, even the developed countries do not have strong policies to take care of such harmful, toxic garbage.

Effect Of E-Waste on Humans and Environment

Let’s check out some of the most common elements found in computers, monitors and TVs etc. and how they affect human life.

The solder present on the motherboard of computers and TV contain high levels of lead. Even the glass panels of computer monitors and of course, the lead batteries contaminate air, water, and soil. In addition, they distort the process of brain development, while posing danger to central nervous system and kidneys. This (lead poisoning) is among the most dangerous hazards of e-waste.

Other than lead, motherboards also have high levels of Mercury. Improper disposal may create skin and respiratory disorders. Mercury poisoning also causes acute brain damages.

The cables and PVC panels as well as glass, when reacts with moisture and oxygen, creates hazardous soil that may not be suitable for even building a home as the people breathing that air will suffer from reproduction and proper development of body parts, including the brain. It also spoils the immune system. Stress, anxiety, and other mental problems can arise out of breathing air polluted with glass, PVC and other forms of plastic remains found in electronic items.

The motherboard circuits can cause lung cancer when you breathe air polluted by the fumes released when the motherboard elements react and create Beryllium. It is also responsible for skin diseases, including warts and certain forms of dangerous allergies.

Treating E-Waste

As of now, there are no proper methods being implemented even in the first world to eliminate the problem of e-waste. The two methods I found interesting for proper treatment of e-waste are recycling and refurbishing.

For recycling, there may be products that cannot be recycled completely. PVC layers, for example, stay as such for ages and cannot be recycled. It would be better if the manufacturers use recyclable material so that the e-waste is converted into something that can be used again without harming the planet and its inhabitants. Thus, one of the major factors in treating e-waste is to compel manufacturers to use green elements.

If electronics are refurbished, they can be sold again at a lower price. Thus, both the society and environment will benefit. Instead of simply dumping your old TV into the garbage bin, you might want to think about calling the vendor and ask him where to present the item for refurbishing. If you cannot find, consider donating the item to some charity that can either use it as such or get it repaired and use it. I do not think it is a practice well implemented, but it would be nice if all vendors provide a refurbishing facility.

The Microsoft Refurbisher program is one initiative from Microsoft, where the refurbisher procures pre-owned computers, refurbishes them, and preinstalls genuine Microsoft software.

The bottom line when talking about proper disposal of e-waste is to convert them into less harmful items before disposing them off completely. There should be a sound policy on this subject and should be implemented without any irregularities for the benefit of the entire planet.

Further Reading

Department of Natural Resources.

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN