E-waste a Growing Problem, its Impact on Environment and Health

What is E-waste?

Electronic waste or e-waste describes the electronic devices which are not in use anymore, need to be reused, to resale or to be recycled.  In developing countries the processing done on e-waste is hazardous to human health and may lead to the adverse effect on our environment, as electronic devices have some components like cadmium, lead etc. that are harmful materials. The expansion of technology leads to the creation of large amounts of e-waste every single minute.

An estimated 50 million tons of e-waste are produced each year. The USA discards 30 million computers each year and 100 million phones are disposed of in Europe each year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators. According to a report “Recycling-from e-waste to Resources” by UNEP, “the amount of e-waste being produced – including mobile phones and computers- could rise by as much as 500% over the next decade in some countries, such as India”.

E-waste in India

India is the fifth largest electronic waste producer in the world, and around 2 million ton of e-waste is generated every year. Only 5% of total e-waste in India is recycled due to poor infrastructure and framework. The rest of the 95% e-waste is not properly recycled. It is managed by informal sector and scrap dealers. They dismantle the disposed products instead of recycling it, This improper and illegal dumping of e-waste is hazardous to health and environment.   In India e-waste is categorized in two groups based on usage:
  1. Information technology and telecommunication equipment’s
  2. Consumer electrical and electronics
In  India, central pollution control board has designed some rules and regulations regarding the dumping and recycling of e-waste. The board has fixed the responsibility of manufactures, producers, bulk consumers, collection center, dismantler, recycler  for the recycling and collection of e-waste. There are many authorized collection centers has been established, they collect the e-waste on the behalf of producers, dismantlers and follow the guidelines of the norms.

Impact of e-waste on Environment & Health:

  • The process of disposing or dismantling of e-waste in developing countries leads to a number of environmental impacts. Liquid and atmospheric releases end up in bodies of water, groundwater, soil and air and therefore in land and sea animals- both domestic and wild, in crops eaten by both animals and humans and in drinking water.
  • Toxic materials from electronic devices when released to environment can cause damage to human blood and organs like kidney, central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.
  • When e-waste is burned, the released toxic chemicals damage the atmospheric layers.

Challenges of e-waste management

  1. Presence of toxic and valuable metals.
  2. High cost of repair and comparatively low cost of electronic items.
  3. Expensive recycling.
  4. Less space in landfill.
  5. Improper method of dismantling electronic items by unskilled workers.
  6. Lack of proper regulations.

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