e-Waste Hazards and e-Waste Management: Perspective

e-Waste Hazards and e-Waste Management: Perspective

Question: e-Waste is an unintended consequence of the IT revolution. Discuss its hazards and highlight the key e-waste management processes from the point of view of the Government, consumer and company as well.

- India has recently emerged as one of the first major hubs for e-waste apart from advanced nations like China

- India is well known as a global IT hub yet guidelines for e-waste disposal are not being implemented and no standard process for scientific disposal of the same is followed

Rather than relying on the local ragpicker, e-waste can be managed through several creative solutions

A. Hazards of e-Waste

- Radiation is emitted from e-waste, according to WHO studies which show even discarded phones and computer chips no longer in use are a source of radiation in the environment

- e-Waste is mixed with household waste and disposed off in landfills which cause the soil to be adversely affected by the radiation

- e-Waste is non biodegradable and contains heart metals like mercury and lead which can harm aquatic life

- Radiation is also carcinogenic and prolonged exposure can lead to cancer

- PCs also contain toxic gases, metals , biologically active materials, acids, plastics and plastic additives

- e-Toxic components in computers include circuit boards containing heavy metals such as cadmium and lead

- Batteries contain cadmium, cathode ray tubes with lead oxide as well as barium brominated flame retardants on circuit boards

- Acids and sludge from melting computer chips can lead to soil acidification

- e-Waste is burnt in India causing highly toxic by-products to be released into the environment

- Uncontrolled fires coming from toxic fumes on account of anaerobic decomposition may also prevail in landfills

Impact on Human health

- Lead from e-waste damages the PNS and CNS as well as the blood systems and the kidney

- Cadmium damages health irreversibly and it is teratogenic as well as leading to neural damage

- Mercury leads to chronic damage of the brain and is also associated with respiratory and skin disorders

- Hexavalent chromium leads to asthmatic bronchitis and DNA damage

- Plastics such as PVC produce dioxin which harms the reproductive and developmental system apart from causing immune system damage and harm regulatory hormones.

- Short term exposure to barium from e-waste causes damage damage to muscles, liver, heart and spleen

B. e-Waste Management Processes

For the Government

- Basel convention has emphasised the control and reduction of transboundary movement of hazardous e-waste and assistance regarding minimisation of generation

- GoI should make provisions for implementation of the Basel convention

- Care should be taken at all stages including inventory management, production process modification, volume reduction as well as recovery and reuse

- There should also be establishment of regulatory agencies apart from collection of basic information and inventorying of manufacturing material in order to contain risks from it

- e-Waste generators should also be educated about recycling and re-use

- Research and development as well as proper control over the manufacturing process is also needed

- Uncontrolled dumping should be curbed

For the Company

- e-Waste management should commence at the point of generation through the use of waste minimisation technologies as well as sustainable product design

- Approval process should evaluate if manufactured product contains any harmful constituents

- The biggest responsibility to ensuring e-waste management lies with the manufacturers of these products. They should ensure that they have lucrative buy back policies and a proper waste management system so that the consumers do not find it appealing to sell it to a local scrap vendor who might just dump it.

- Proper control over materials used in the manufacturing process can lead to reduced waste generation

- Establishment of material purchase review and control as well as inventory tracking is essential

- Changes in the production process can reduce waste generation

- This can be accomplished through material change, process equipment modification and improved operating and maintenance procedures

- Volume reduction or removal of hazardous process of waste from non hazardous process is also important

- Electronic waste with different types of metals can be treated separately to lower the metal value in the sludge

- Methods to recycle and reuse the waste include gravity and vacuum filtration, ultra filtration, freeze vaporisation and reverse osmosis

- Waste disposal costs could also be eliminated through this apart from reducing raw material cost and provision of income from saleable e-waste

- Rethinking the product design and use of renewable energy and materials is a good step forward

- All personnel involved in e-waste handling should be well qualified and trained

- Components should be standardised for easy disassembly

- Green packaging options should be considered and companies should educate consumers and general public regarding safe ways to manage and recycle e-waste

- Companies can use a reverse production scheme and closed loop manufacturing and recovery system for groundwater and soil to be protected

For the Citizens

- Waste prevention is ideal but waste management or recycling can also be applied

- Citizens should be educated about donating electronics for reuse and keep such technology appliances out of the web of the waste management system as long as possible.

- Participatory management of e-waste is the most effective solution

Facts and Stats

- International NGO Basel Action Network has estimated that close to 500 million computers across the globe contain 2.87 billion kg of plastics, 716.7 million kgs of lead and mercury amounting to 2,86,700 kgs

- Average 14 inch monitor employs the use of a tube that contains 2.5 to 4 kg of lead

- Lead and other bio toxins can contaminate the air and water both
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