Every year, we are throwing off a minimum of 42 million tonnes of e-waste as garbage. Well, most of this is computer / television monitors, printer cartridges, dishwashers, washing machines, microwaves, laptops, mobile phones and burnt circuit boards. In the past couple of years, with the onslaught of smart devices and gadgets taking over every aspect of our life, the use of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) has grown exponentially. While the lifespan of devices are shorter, most end up in dust bins and recycling centre. This has been a major challenge for policy maker. However, more importantly, the growing E-waste volumes have also become a disaster.
There is a large portion of our e-waste that isn’t collected and treated in proper recycling centre. This leads to a minimum of 4,400 tonnes of toxic chemicals getting dumped in our natural environment each year. 2.2 mega tonnes of this has been found to be lead glass alone. Others include arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, CFCs, chromium, mercury, dioxins, selenium, copper and much more. Apart from directly impacting the environment, it leads to damages to living organisms, including us humans. E-waste has led to serious damages of the kidneys, livers, lung, nervous system, heart and our skin. These toxic substances lower our immune capacities, contaminate the water and food we drink/eat and results in fatalities across the globe.
The UN University predicts that the total amount of e-waste would amount to 50 mega tonnes by the year 2018 and this can be a major issue. The solution is not trying to stop the consumption of electronic items to minimize the waste amount but proper collection and recycling. This also presents a great opportunity to create more jobs and save upon resources that are blatantly discarded. In 2015, 16% of e-waste was recycled, meaning that we lost about 300 tonnes of gold, 16 mega tonnes of steel and 1000 tonnes of silver to landfills. E-waste thus constitutes a considerable urban mine. By treating it in an environmentally sound manner, we can both save our environment and lower of needs of exploiting natural resources (again, save the environment).
What makes e-waste so dangerous?
E-waste isn't just the regular waste but contains some very toxic substances like mercury, lead, etc. as already hinted above; these substances have been the root cause of reproductive disorders, nervous system failure, cancer, endocrine disruption, skin diseases and impaired mental development in a mass scale. PVC, one of the common substances in e-waste produces some of the most dangerous carcinogens ever known to man. Similarly, discarded flame retardant cylinders still contain residual bromine's that have caused thyroid problems and fatal damages. Barium, another common chemical in cartridges can cause brain swelling even after a short exposure. It will further cause muscle weakness, spleen damage, and liver and heart problems.
The first step to resolution is becoming aware of these endless problems. Next would be to take steps towards up-cycling, recycling and reusing. Computer and laptop recycling has become so much easier today. Even donating can do a considerable amount of help. The statistics are already alarming but there is still time to limit the damages.