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What is E-Waste?

  • Last Updated : 28 Dec, 2021

E-waste or electronic waste team means discarded electrical or electronic devices or components. Whenever an electronic or electrical component or device whose working life has expired or damaged, or no longer used by people due to technological advancements,  comes under e-waste. As we know, technology changes day by day due to which a large amount of electronic or electrical devices are turning into waste. Some of the common e-waste elements are mobile phones, computers, laptops, hard drives, fans, microwaves, DVD, printers, lamps, etc. E-waste is a serious issue for our environment because it releases harmful toxic chemicals from the metals due to chemical reactions and these toxic chemicals harm our environment. The management of such type of waste is known as E-waste management.

E-waste management is defined as a holistic method of cutting down  E-waste from the earth to prevent its harmful toxic to deteriorate earth. It recycles and reuses the e-waste that is no longer needed. 

Harmful effects of E-waste

When the waste is not disposed properly, it harms the environment and the people living in it. Similarly, if e-waste is not disposed properly,it causes huge damage to the environment and also affects the health of humans living in it. Below are the harmful effects of E-waste:

  • On air: Air pollution occurs because of e-waste. When the e-waste is disposed informally by dismantling, shredding, or melting(to get the metal like copper) the material, it releases fine dust particles or toxic gases that can travel thousands of miles and cause air pollution, and also harm living things.
  • On soil: When the e-waste is disposed in the regular land or it is disposed in an illegal place. Then the e-waste contaminates that soil and the underlying water. Now when the crop is planted on this contaminated land the crop becomes vulnerable to absorbing these toxins, which leads to many serious illnesses, and the soil also loses its productivity.
  • On water: E-waste also causes water pollution. E-waste generally contains mercury, lithium, lead, and barium, etc. so when the e-waste is buried into the soil they leak through the earth and reach the groundwater and contaminate the water, they eventually also make their way to ponds, streams, rivers, and lakes. Because of which they harm aquatic animals, plants, human beings, etc.
  • On humans: As we know that e-waste contains toxic materials like mercury, lithium, lead, and barium, etc. that cause harmful effects on the health of humans.

So, the management of E-waste is necessary to save our earth and the lives of living things. 

Classification of E-waste

E-waste is mainly classified on the basis of its composition and components. 

  • E-waste composition: The e-waste composition is categorized into 6 types and they are: Ferrous(containing iron in its composition)metals, non-ferrous(don’t contain iron in its composition) metals, plastics, glass, pollutants, and others. Iron is immensely used in the manufacture of electronic equipment and plastic is the second-largest material used in the manufacturing of electronic equipment as its cheap and is present in abundance. Non-ferrous metals like copper, aluminum, gold have significant commercial value in the technical market and are used to make parts of electronics as well as electrical equipment. There are some toxic materials that are also used like lead, cadmium, mercury, etc., in some parts of electronic devices. When these toxic materials exceed their threshold value, then they are regarded as pollutants and harmful for the environment.
  • E-waste Components: the e-waste components are categorized into several types and they are: Major Appliances, Small Appliances, Computer and Telecommunications Appliances, Lighting Devices, Electrical and electronic tools, Electronic Toys, Medical devices, Monitoring Devices, Vending Machines, etc.

Problem of E-waste

Nowadays, more than damaged electronic equipment, working electronic equipment contributes more to E-waste. The reason being, as newer technologies are rolling out, the current working electronic equipment loses its charm. People can’t resist buying the latest technology that offers better and newer features. The tech inventors continue to build advanced equipment that makes our life easier and more comfortable, but as a byproduct of this, a tremendous amount of E-waste is generated. Which makes e-waste management a difficult challenge. We are living in the era of artificial intelligence and automated systems, due to which huge amounts of chips, sensors are being produced, thus significantly contributing to E-waste. Some of the other e-waste issues are health hazards, poor awareness regarding how to dispose of e-waste, the high cost of setting up recycling facilities, etc.

Method of disposing E-waste

Following methods are used to dispose e-waste:

  • Landfills: This is the most commonly used method of disposing e-waste. In this method, large trenches are made in the soil to bury e-waste. But this is not a good method to dispose e-waste because e-waste contains toxic substances like lead, mercury, etc., that leak into the earth and harm the underground water and soil.
  • Incineration: It is also the most commonly used method to dispose of e-waste. In this method, the e-waste is burned at high temperatures in specially designed incinerators. Due to which the volume of e-waste is reduced and the energy produced by this method is also utilized separately. But this is also not a good method because when the e-waste burns, it releases harmful gases which harm our environment.
  • Acid Bath: In this method, the e-wast is soaked in powerful sulphuric, hydrochloric, nitric acid solutions that remove the metal from the e-waste. The recovered metal is further reused to create other products. This method also has drawbacks, like the acid solutions sometimes dumped into the water resources which is not good for living things.
  • Mechanical recycling: This is the most efficient method and also environmentally friendly. In this method, use dry physical separation to recover used circuit boards, Ics, motherboard, etc from the e-waste and recycle them. In this method, precious metals like copper, lead, etc., are separated from the e-waste using a PCB recycling machine without harming the environment.

How E-waste results in data theft?

Data security is always a major concern but nowadays it is more important due to E-waste. As technology keeps improving our mobile phones, laptops, tablets, computer, and other electronic devices. People are in a rush to buy their latest model or replacing them with their advanced versions. In this rush, they throw away the older versions because they are now trash for them. But for data theft, this trash is a goldmine because these devices contain all the personal or confidential information like bank details, passwords, credit card information, etc. The data theft easily recovers this data from the memory even if the user deletes all the data from the device before throwing or selling them. So it is important when you are throwing or reselling your laptop, computer, smartphone, etc, take them to an experienced recycling firm or expert where the staff or expert truly removes all the data from your system so that after throwing or selling them no one can get your personal data. 

How to manage E-waste?

Till now, we have seen how E-waste can be harmful in various ways. Therefore, it becomes very important to manage the E-waste before it becomes out of control. The following are the ways in which we can manage E-waste:

  • Reuse the equipments which are still functioning to reduce E-waste.
  • Donate or resell the old working devices instead of throwing them away.
  • Many of the damaged equipment are recyclable, like mobile, calculator, laptop, etc., repairing them saves material and reduces E-waste as well.
  • Give Back E-waste to the Electronic Companies. Many companies have started accepting old electronic products and they recycle them, modify them and resell them at lower prices. This is a very good way to manage E-waste.
  • Give the Electronic Waste to a Certified E-Waste Recycler where proper recycling methods are used to refurbish the old product into the new one.
  • Extend the life of electronics by keeping them clean, avoiding the overcharge of batteries.
  • Buy environmentally-friendly electronics.
  • There are stores which buy the old phone, even online site like Flipkart has that feature of exchanging old phone with a new phone.
  • Limit the number of gadgets-buying, gadgets unnecessarily further contribute to E-waste. So it is advised to buy only limited gadgets that satisfy user’s needs.
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