Hazards of Electronic waste Electronic waste, e-waste, e-scrap, or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) describes loosely discarded, surplus, obsolete, or broken electrical or electronic devices. Informal processing of electronic waste in developing countries causes serious health and pollution problems. Some electronic scrap components, such as CRTs, contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants.
Even in developed countries recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to workers and communities and great care must e taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaching of material such as heavy metals from landfills and incinerator ashes. Scrap industry and USA EPA officials agree that materials should be managed with caution,and environmental dangers of unused electronics have not been exaggerated.
Definitions “Electronic waste” may be defined as all secondary computers, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, and other items such as television sets and refrigerators, whether sold, donated, or discarded by their original owners. This definition includes sed electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal. Others define the re-usables (working and repairable electronics) and secondary scrap (copper, steel, plastic, etc. to be “commodities”, and reserve the term “waste” for residue or material which was represented as working or repairable but which is dumped or disposed or discarded by the buyer rather than recycled, including residue from reuse and recycling operations. Because loads of surplus electronics are frequently commingled (good, recyclable, and non-recyclable), several public olicy advocates apply the term “e-waste” broadly to all surplus electronics. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) includes discarded CRT monitors in its category of “hazardous household waste”. l] but considers CRTs set aside for testing to be commodities if they are not discarded, speculatively accumulated, or left unprotected from weather and other damage. Debate continues over the distinction between “commodity” and “waste” electronics definitions. Some exporters are accused of deliberately leaving difficult-to-recycle, obsolete, or non- epairable equipment mixed in loads of working equipment (though this may also come through ignorance, or to avoid more costly treatment processes).
Protectionists may broaden the definition of “waste” electronics in order to protect domestic markets from working secondary equipment. The high value of the computer recycling subset of electronic waste (working and reusable laptops, desktops, and components like RAM) can help pay the cost of transportation for a larger number of worthless pieces than can be achieved with display devices, which have less (or negative) scrap value.
Problems Rapid changes in technology, changes in media (tapes, software, MP3), falling prices, and planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing surplus of electronic waste around the glo e b . Dave Krucn o as For Laptops, regards electronic waste as a “rapidly expanding” issue.  Technical solutions are available, but in most cases a legal framework, a collection system, logistics, and other services need to be implemented before a technical solution can be applied. An estimated 50 million tons of E-waste is produced each year.
The USA discards 30 million computers each ear and 100 million phones are disposed of in Europe each year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators. According to a report by UNEP titled, “Recycling – from E-waste to Resources,” the amount of e-waste being produced – including mobile phones and computers – could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade in some countries, such as India .
The United States is the world leader in producing electronic waste, tossing away about 3 million tonnes each year. China already produces about 2. million tonnes (2010 estimate) domestically, second only to the United States. And, despite having banned e-waste imports, China remains a major e-waste dumping ground for developed countries Electrical waste contains hazardous but also valuable and scarce materials. Up to 60 elements can be found in complex electronics. In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills comes from discarded electronics.
While there is agreement that the number of discarded electronic devices is increasing, there is considerable disagreement about the relative risk (compared to automobile scrap, for xample), and strong disagreement whether curtailing trade in used electronics will improve conditions, or make them worse. According to an article in Motherboard, attempts to restrict the trade have driven reputable companies out of the supply chain, with unintended consequences. Electrical waste contains hazardous but also valuable and scarce materials. Up to 60 elements can be found in complex electronics.
In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills comes from discarded electronics. While there is agreement that the number of discarded electronic devices is increasing, there is considerable disagreement about the elative risk (compared to automobile scrap, for example), and strong disagreement whether curtailing trade in used electronics will improve conditions, or make them worse. According to an article in Motherboard, attempts to restrict the trade have driven reputable companies out of the supply chain, with unintended consequences.
Global trade issuesOne theory is that increased regulation of electronic waste and concern over the environmental harm in mature economies creates an economic disincentive to remove residues prior to export. Critics of trade in used electronics aintain that it is too easy for brokers calling themselves recyclers to export unscreened electronic waste to developing countries, such as China, India and parts of Africa, thus avoiding the expense of removing items like bad cathode ray tubes (the processing of which is expensive and difficult). The developing countries are becoming big dump yards of e-waste.
Proponents of international trade point to the success of fair trade programs in other industries, where cooperation has led creation of sustainable Jobs, and can bring affordable technology in countries where repair and reuse rates are higher. Defenders of the trade in used electronics say that extraction of metals from virgin mining has also been shifted to developing countries. Hard-rock mining of copper, silver, gold and other materials extracted from electronics is considered tar more environmentally damaging than the recycling ot those materials.
They also state that repair and reuse of computers and televisions has become a “lost art” in wealthier nations, and that refurbishing has traditionally been a path to development. South Korea, Taiwan, and southern China all excelled in finding “retained value” in used goods, and in some cases have set up billion-dollar ndustries in refurbishing used ink cartridges, single-use cameras, and working CRTs. Refurbishing has traditionally been a threat to established manufacturing, and simple protectionism explains some criticism of the trade.
Works like “The Waste Makers” by Vance Packard explain some of the criticism of exports of working product, for example the ban on import of tested working Pentium 4 laptops to China, or the bans on export of used surplus working electronics by Japan. Opponents of surplus electronics exports argue that lower environmental and labor standards, cheap labor, and the relatively high value of recovered raw materials leads to a ransfer of pollution-generating activities, such as burning of copper wire.
In China, Malaysia, India, Kenya, and various African countries, electronic waste is being sent to these countries for processing, sometimes illegally. Many surplus laptops are routed to developing nations as “dumping grounds for e-waste”. Because the United States has not ratified the Basel Convention or its Ban Amendment, and has no domestic laws forbidding the export of toxic waste, the Basel Action Network estimates that about 80% of the electronic waste directed to recycling in the U. S. does not get ecycled there at all, but is put on container ships and sent to countries such as China.
This figure is disputed as an exaggeration by the EPA, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, and the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association. Independent research by Arizona State University showed that 87-88% of imported used computers did not have a higher value than the best value of the constituent materials they contained, and that “the official trade in end-of-life computers is thus driven by reuse as opposed to Guiyu in the Shantou region of China, Delhi and Bangalore in India as well as the Agbogbloshie site near Accra, Ghana have lectronic waste processing areas.
Uncontrolled burning, disassembly, and disposal causes a variety of environmental problems such as groundwater contamination, atmospheric pollution, or even water pollution either by immediate discharge or due to surface runoff (especially near coastal areas), as well as health problems including occupational safety and health effects among those directly and indirectly involved, due to the methods of processing the waste. Thousands of men, women, and children are employed in highly polluting, primitive recycling technologies, extracting he metals, toners, and plastics from computers and other electronic waste.
Recent studies show that 7 out of 10 children in this region have too much lead in their blood Proponents of the trade say growth of internet access is a stronger correlation to trade than poverty. Haiti is poor and closer to the port of New York than southeast Asia, but far more electronic waste is exported from New York to Asia than to Haiti. Thousands of men, women, and children are employed in reuse, refurbishing, repair, and remanufacturing, unsustainable industries in decline in developed countries.
Denying developing nations access to used electronics may deny them sustainable employment, affordable products, and internet access, or force them to deal with even less scrupulous suppliers. In a series of seven articles for The Atlantic, Shanghai-based reporter Adam Minter describes many ot these computer repair and scrap separation activities as objectively sustainable. Opponents of the trade argue that developing countries utilize methods that are more harmful and more wasteful. An expedient and prevalent method is simply to toss equipment onto an open fire, in order to melt plastics and to burn away unvaluable metals.
This releases carcinogens and neurotoxins into the air, contributing to an acrid, lingering smog. These noxious fumes include dioxins and furans.  Bonfire refuse can be disposed of quickly into drainage ditches or waterways feeding the ocean or local water supplies. Recycling Today the electronic waste recycling business is in all areas of the developed world a large and rapidly consolidating business. Part of this evolution has involved greater diversion of electronic waste from energy-intensive downcycling processes (e. . , conventional recycling), where equipment is reverted to a raw material form. This iversion is achieved through reuse and refurbishing. The environmental and social benefits of reuse include diminished demand for new products and virgin raw materials (with their own environmental issues); larger quantities of pure water and electricity for associated manufacturing; less packaging per unit; availability of technology to wider swaths of society due to greater affordability of products; and diminished use of landfills.
Audiovisual components, televisions, VCRs, stereo equipment, mobile phones, other handheld devices, and computer components contain valuable elements and substances suitable for reclamation, including lead, opper, and gold. 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. 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, and some other methods are still under investigation. Hazardous Americium: smoke alarms (radioactive source). Mercury: fluorescent tubes (numerous applications), tilt switches (mechanical oorbells, thermostats).  Sulfur: lead-acid batteries. PBBs: Predecessor of PCBs. Also used as flame retardant. Banned from 1973-1977 on. PCBs: prior to ban, almost all 1930s-1970s equipment, including capacitors, transformers, wiring insulation, paints, inks, and flexible sealants. Banned during the 1980s.
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