E-waste and recycling

E - waste

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is a term for electronic products that have become unwanted, non-working or obsolete, and have essentially reached the end of their useful life. Because technology advances at such a high rate, many electronic devices become “trash” after a few short years of use. In fact, whole categories of old electronic items contribute to e-waste such as VCRs being replaced by DVD players, and DVD players being replaced by blu-ray players. E-waste is created from anything electronic: computers, TVs, monitors, cell phones, PDAs, VCRs, CD players, fax machines, printers, etc.

Environmental impact

The processes of dismantling and disposing of electronic waste in developing countries led to a number of environmental impacts as illustrated in the graphic. Liquid and atmospheric releases end up in bodies of water, groundwater, soil, and air and therefore in land and sea animals – both domesticated and wild, in crops eaten by both animals and human, and in drinking water.

One study of environmental effects in Guiyu, China found the following

Airborne dioxins – one type found at 100 times levels previously measured.

Levels of carcinogens in duck ponds and rice paddies exceeded international standards for agricultural areas and cadmium, copper, nickel, and lead levels in rice paddies were above international standards.

Heavy metals found in road dust – lead over 300 times that of a control village's road dust and copper over 100 times.

Recycling

One of the major challenges is recycling the printed circuit boards from the electronic wastes. The circuit boards contain such precious metals as gold, silver, platinum, etc. and such base metals as copper, iron, aluminum, etc.

One way e-waste is processed is by melting circuit boards, burning cable sheathing to recover copper wire and open- pit acid leaching for separating metals of value.[55] Conventional method employed is mechanical shredding and separation but the recycling efficiency is low. Alternative methods such as cryogenic decomposition have been studied for printed circuit board recycling,[56] and some other methods are still under investigation. Properly disposing of or reusing electronics can help prevent health problems, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and create jobs.[57] Reuse and refurbishing offer a more environmentally friendly and socially conscious alternative to downcycling processes.