Did you know that e-waste is the fastest-growing and most complex solid waste stream in the world? Before delving deep into the subject, let us first understand what electronic waste comprises. The definition of e-waste as provided by the United Nations reads as “any discarded product with a battery or plug, and features toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury that can pose a severe risk to human and environmental health.”
This e-waste today is unfortunately generated in enormous quantities. According to the data from the UN, one person on average produced 7.6 Kg of e-waste in 2021 by which a total of 57.4 million tons is presumed to be generated globally. With the world moving closer towards technological advancement with each passing day, these numbers are bound to rise sharply. It is estimated that 74 million tons of e-waste will be produced every year by 2030. Shockingly out of the total waste generated, only 17.4% is treated properly and recycled. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2015 titled “Waste Crimes, Waste Risks: Gaps and Challenges in the Waste Sector”, around 60-90% of the total world’s e-waste which values at nearly USD 19 billion is either dumped in landfills or illegally traded every year.
E-waste releases toxic elements into the environment which accumulate in the air, water, soil and living things. Humans are exposed to toxic materials like mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, thallium, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) which can lead to cancers, neurological damages, miscarriages and diminished cognitive abilities. Needless to say, this e-waste poses a severe threat to the environment as well as human health and the issue is crying out for help. Thus, treating it appropriately is an urgent need. Everyone should address the issue and act upon it immediately before irreversible damage is already done to the environment, us and our fellow ecological beings.
Steps that can be taken
Firstly, do not throw your e-waste with regular waste or throw it off where it pleases you. It negatively impacts natural resources such as soil, water and air. Once these natural resources are contaminated by toxic metals released from e-waste, they affect humans, trees, plants, animals and other living things. Just imagine the food we consume, the air we breathe and the water we drink could be highly contaminated and hazardous.
This is the reason you need to ensure that it is recycled responsibly. Otherwise, this large stream of e-waste will only become larger. Recycling simply means reprocessing and reusing e-waste. E-waste generally consists of recyclable components such as plastic, metal, glass, mercury, circuit boards, aluminium ingots, batteries, toners and ink cartridges.
Before disposing of any e-waste item, one needs to make sure that all personal information on the device is deleted, all batteries are removed and broken parts are separately carried to avoid any leakage. Thereafter, one should find the nearest place that provides an e-waste bin and dispose of your e-waste in this bin. One must ensure that the e-waste there will further be sent for recycling. For instance, in India, many e-waste recyclers are registered. They ensure the effective disposal of e-waste. When components of e-waste are recycled, the life of an electrical device immensely increases. Recycling has the potential to diminish environmental hazards effectively.
Recycling e-waste can also save tons of energy consumption. According to the data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if one million laptops are recycled, it could save energy equivalent to the electricity consumption of more than 3500 US homes every year.
Where e-waste contains metals like gold, aluminium and copper in large quantities, if these precious metals are recycled, it can save on a huge expenditure. China conducted a study which disclosed that mining these metals is around 13 times more expensive than recycling them from old electronics.
Avoid buying if not necessary
An individual on average is said to buy a new electronic device every 12-18 months. This is absolutely not good for the environment. One should try to prolong the usage of the electronic devices to the maximum extent possible. If demand decreases, the manufacturing of electronic devices will also decrease and that will limit the volume.
There are a lot of websites like eBay, Poshmark and others that support the sale of used products. If you no longer wish to use an electronic device but it is in good condition, you can consider reselling it through such websites or your personal contacts. Many stores also provide this offer that they shall take back the used devices from where the product was purchased.
It is an efficient e-waste reduction technique. Consider there is device A & B. Certain components of device A need replacement. If those components are present in thrown-away device B, then they are extracted and reused in device A. It prolongs the life of an electronic device.
Everyone should abide by the saying ‘Better to be recycled than be discarded’. Since electronic gadgets are now available with almost everyone, it is everyone’s responsibility to treat e-waste responsibly. Environmental degradation owing to e-waste is a serious issue and should be dealt with seriously.
You can learn more about this and other related topics through an accredited ESG Expert Certification from Directors’ Institute.