What is e-Waste (Electronic Waste)?

Buried under e-Waste.
Buried under e-Waste.

5. Components of e-Waste

Certain discarded electronic appliances and gadgets are considered as e-waste equipment, although other home appliances are not clearly defined as belonging to the e-waste category. Most business and personal electronic gadgets, including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, televisions, copier machines, fax machines, stereos, and video players, all fit within this category when discarded. There are also certain electronic e-waste components that are hazardous. These include those that make up the internal parts of certain electronic appliances and gadgets. The CRT from monitors and television sets are hazardous, and tagged as being among the most difficult to recycle. The Central Processing Units of computers consist of heavy metals such as beryllium, cadmium, and lead, and also flame retardants that are considered as toxic.

4. Global e-Waste Levels

Despite all of the benefits of the Information Age, e-waste has unfortunately placed an even greater burden on our landfills. The available figures for global e-waste volume in 2014 had reached 41.8 million metric tons. The following waste figures were collated by the United Nations University in 2014.

  • 1.0 million metric tons of lamps.
  • 3.0 million metric tons of small information and communications technology (ICT) equipment.
  • 6.3 million metric tons of screens.
  • 7.0 million metric tons of temperature-exchange (freezing and cooling).
  • 11.8 million metric tons of big appliances (electric stoves, dishwashers, dryers, washers, and photovoltaic panels).
  • 12.8 million metric tons of small appliances (electric shavers, toasters, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, and video cameras).

3. Environmental Concerns and Regulations

Concerns about e-waste and its effects on human health and the environment alike have been addressed by the United Nations' Basel Convention treaty of the late 1980s. This same treaty, also known as the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, has seen improper e-Waste disposal prohibited by the convention internationally, yet the matter is being transgressed by the transfer of e-waste from developed countries into developing countries. E-waste that has been discarded is either dismantled for resale and reuse, or trashed or burned. Some of these actions produce serious contaminants and hazardous chemicals. People who recycle e-waste have already shown signs of neurological, respiratory, bone, and digestive problems. The environment is also affected, with toxic chemicals leeching down into drinking water and food crops.

2. e-Waste Recycling

Most of the e-waste that is discarded by industrialized countries is sent to or bought by developing countries for recycling, resale, and/or reuse. Asian countries that do such informal recycling of developed countries' e-waste include India, China, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Figures show that Asian countries also recycle their own consumer electronics, and that total volume recycled could double by 2020. As the recycling methods get assessed, alternative methods are being studied that could prospectively lessen their negative impacts on human health and the environment. These should make recycling a more viable process that would keep human health on the safe side, and also keep the environment e-waste pollution-free.

1. e-Waste and Identity Theft

According to some sources, identity theft is one of the risks of improper e-waste recycling. Hard drives contain sensitive information that could be retrieved by anyone with some computer knowledge. Private financial information, account details, and credit card numbers alike are all relatively easily retrievable from these hard drives. These sensitive data could then be used for theft and fraud. An example is the area of Agbogbloshie, Ghana, where e-waste is sent for dumping with about 500 containers of e-waste a month arriving in its ports. Some unscrupulous individuals have retrieved information about multi-million-dollar contracts from top United States security agencies from the discarded hard drives found here, and used the information for fraudulent financial gain.


More in Environment