Electronic Waste

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Don’t Be Haste to E-Waste
Electronic-waste (e-waste) has emerged as a critical global environmental health issue in both developed and developing nations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refers to e-waste as "electronic products that are discarded by consumers." More specifically, e-waste is a generic term that encompasses various forms of electrical and electronic equipment that may be old, might have reached end-of-life and most importantly cease to be of any value to their present owners. These electronics include computers, printers, television sets, mobile phones, video game consoles, and VCR and DVD players, among other products. As the demand for newer, more effective and efficient technology increases, the life span of electronic products is becoming shorter and shorter; thus, our consumer society today, which Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff describes as a society with a throwaway mindset, discards significant amounts of e-waste worldwide as older and out-of-date electronic items become obsolete. Sound management is imperative to face the challenges that come about as a result of this new kind of waste; and while certain nations such as the United States and Japan have refocused their attention on recycling for the management of electronic waste, it is up to society at large—whether it be individual consumers, large corporations, or non-governmental organizations—to take action in reducing the amounts of e-waste produced. According to the EPA, e-waste is the fastest growing stream of municipal solid waste, growing at about 4% a year; however, its management remains a significant environment health concern. It is estimated that 20-50 million tons of e-waste are produced annually worldwide; the United States, Western Europe, China, Japan, and Australia are the major producers (Davis and Herat 2010, 707). Although it does not create visible heaps of trash like municipal waste, e-waste is very complex, non-biodegradable and toxic. Electronic and electrical appliances are made up of thousands of different parts that consist of hundreds of different substances—plastics, metals, glass as well as organic and inorganic compounds. Compounds such as brominates, flame retardants, metals like lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium compounds found in these appliances are highly dangerous persistent organic pollutants that pose health and environment risks. These chemicals bio-accumulate as they move through the food-chain making the hazards more acute in the event of incorrect disposal and inappropriate recycling techniques. Without the appropriate facilities to safeguard environmental and human health, the techniques used in recycling of e-waste are often primitive. These include removing electronic components from printed circuit boards by heating them over a grill using honeycombed coal blocks as fuel, chipping and melting plastics without proper ventilation, disposing unsalvageable materials in the fields and riverbanks, stripping metals in open-pit acid baths to recover gold and other materials, and so forth. All of these practices contribute to the release of toxic metals such as lead, as well as persistent organic pollutants and flame retardants, into the environment, which may affect human health either directly or indirectly. Moreover, the US only recycles 18% of e-waste collected, with the remaining 80% sent to the landfill and 2% for incineration (EPA 2008). About 50-80% of the e-waste collected for recycling in industrialized countries like the US end up in recycling centers—or landfills—in China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines because dealing with e-waste responsibly is expensive (UNEP 2005). As a result, these developing countries along with more are generating more and more e-waste in their own territories, so that countries like the US can avoid the costs of responsible recycling. Specialists make the claim that the products are slated for “resuse” to get around import restrictions...
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