There was spectacular developments in modern times have undoubtedly enhanced the quality of our lives. At the same time, these have
led to manifold problems including the problem of massive amount of hazardous waste and other wastes generated from electric products.
These hazardous and other wastes pose a great threat to the human health and environment.
The issue about E-Waste
The issue of proper management of wastes, therefore, is critical to the protection of livelihood, health and environment.
It constitutes a serious challenge to the modern societies and requires coordinated efforts to address it for achieving sustainable development.
E-waste consists of all waste from electronic and electrical appliances which have reached their end- of- life period or are no longer fit for their original intended use and are destined for recovery, recycling or disposal. It includes computer and its accessories like monitors, printers, keyboards, central processing units; typewriters, mobile phones and chargers, remotes, compact discs, headphones, batteries, LCD/Plasma TVs, air conditioners, refrigerators and other household appliances.
Classification and details about E Waste
The composition of e-waste is diverse and falls under 'hazardous' and 'non-hazardous' categories.
Broadly, it consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete, ceramics, rubber and other items.
Iron and steel constitute about 50% of the waste, followed by plastics (21%), non-ferrous metals (13%) and other constituents.
Non-ferrous metals consist of metals like copper, aluminium and precious metals like silver, gold, platinum, palladium and so on.
The presence of elements like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, hexavalent chromium, and flame retardants beyond threshold quantities make e-waste hazardous in nature.
It contains over 1000 different substances, many of which are toxic, and creates serious pollution upon disposal. Obsolete computers pose the most significant environmental and health hazard among the e-wastes.
The electronics industry is driven mainly by the computer and computer component sectors with as much as a fifth of its revenues coming from sales of Personal Computers.
A shift in the governance systems with e-governance initiatives adopted by the Central and the State Governments, the telecom, banking and education sectors, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and IT enabled services have been a major factor leading to the vibrancy of consumption in the information technology market. Today,
the small cities constitute close to 50 per cent of the sales of personal computers.
Consumer Electronics (Television) segment
In the television segment, the advent of the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) and plasma screens have altered the concept of the television for viewers.
Better technology has meant improved picture quality and a diminishing price difference between the traditional CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) television and the new flat screen LCD television.
According to a report on Indian Consumer Durables Industry by the Corporate Catalyst India, the sales trend of television indicated that sales would go up from 8,867,000 units in 2005 to11,795,000 units in 2010.
The cell phone or mobile users have increased in number very rapidly in India and this momentum will be maintained in the coming years. However, the waste generated by this product is
physically less in volume due to the nature of the product.
In the telecommunications segment, due to the increasing use of fiber optic technology to replace copper for faster transmission of data and for expanding the bandwidth
of service networks, the optical components markets are also expected to rise from a market worth at $3.8 billion in 2008 to $11.3billion by 2015.
Transition in consuming patterns
Most of the IT products, especially computers and mobile phones, have a short lifespan.
The products are not designed for longevity and become obsolete in no time. The most commonly used PC, which earlier had a lifespan of seven years, today has an average lifespan of two to five years.
The shorter lifespan of products is a marketing strategy to maintain the pace of consumption and production processes. Therefore, new technologies and 'upgrades' come into the market almost every 18 months influencing consumption patterns.
The generation of such obsolete electronic items or e-waste is therefore, likely to increase manifold in proportion to the growth in the electronics industry.
Pollutants and their occurrence in waste electrical and electronic equipments
Semiconductors, diodes, microwaves, LEDs (Light-emitting diodes), solar cells
Electron tubes, filler for plastic and rubber, lubricant additives Brominated flame- Casing, circuit boards (plastic), cables proofing agent and PVC cables
Batteries, pigments, solder, alloys, circuit boards, computer batteries, monitor, cathode ray tubes (CRTs), Chrome Dyes/pigments, switches, solar
Steel, brass, alloys, disposable and rechargeable batteries, luminous substances
Listed in the table below are the harmful elements in the compositions of electrical and electronic appliances that can be hazardous to health and environment.
A neurotoxin that affects the kidneys and the reproductive system. High quantities can be fatal. It affects mental development in children. Mechanical breaking of CRTs (cathode ray tubes) and removing solder from microchips release lead as powder and fumes.
Found in circuit boards, cabinets and cables, they contain carcinogens. BFRs or brominated flame retardants give out carcinogenic brominated dioxins and furans. Dioxins can harm reproductive and immune systems. Burning PVC, a component of plastics, also produces dioxins. BFR can leach into landfills. Even the dust on computer cabinets contains BFR.
Used to protect metal housings and plates in a computer from corrosion. Inhaling hexavalent chromium or chromium 6 can damage liver and kidneys and cause bronchial maladies including asthmatic bronchitis and lung cancer.
Affects the central nervous system, kidneys and immune system. It impairs foetus growth and harms infants through mother's milk. It is released while breaking and burning of circuit boards and switches. Mercury in water bodies can form methylated mercury through microbial activity. Methylated mercury is toxic and can enter the human food chain through aquatic.
Found in switch boards and printed circuit boards. It is carcinogenic and causes lung diseases.
A carcinogen. Long-term exposure causes Itai-itai disease, which causes severe pain in the joints and spine. It affects the kidneys and softens bones. Cadmium is released into the environment as powder while crushing and milling of plastics, CRTs and circuit boards. Cadmium may be released with dust, entering surface water and groundwater.
Sulphuric and hydrochloric acids are used to separate metals from circuit boards. Fumes contain chlorine and sulphur dioxide, which cause respiratory problems. They are corrosive to the eye and skin.
E-waste typically contains complex combinations of materials and components down to microscopic levels. The wastes are broken down in not just for recycling but for there coverable materials.
However, since e-waste also contains significant concentration of substances that are hazardous to human health and the environment, even a small amount of e-waste entering the residual waste will
introduce relatively high amount of heavy metals and halogenated substances.