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What Is E-Waste?

Essay by   •  August 7, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,989 Words (12 Pages)  •  2,378 Views

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What is E-Waste?

E-waste is electronics equipment that is not properly recycled. It has become a very big problem around the world. The following paragraphs will list some of the electronic equipment and the hazards they can cause to humans and the environment. There are laws that dictate how the devices should be disposed of in a safe way to everyone. But of course, not everyone adheres to the laws. Most of the e-waste is shipped to other countries because it is much cheaper to recycle there than in the United States (U.S). This puts those workers in hazardous spots and they probably do not even know.

How do we dispose of e-waste and what is the e-waste process? Electronic devices are a complex mixture of several hundred materials. Many of these contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, nickel, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, PVC plastics, and hazardous chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants. These dangerous substances cause serious pollution and put workers at risk of exposure when the products are produced or disposed. During these processes, children and pregnant women are exposed to lead and mercury. These metals are highly toxic and can harm children and developing fetuses even at low levels of exposure. Toxic chemicals in electronics products can leach into the land over time and are released into the atmosphere, affecting nearby communities and the environment (Greenpeace International).

Unfortunately, there are environmental impacts of disposing of electronics into the environment without any precautions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is very concerned about ensuring the proper management of used electronics and has undertaken important work to increase the collection and responsible recycling of used electronics.

As for managing electronics disposed in the U.S. in landfills, the EPA believes that disposal of electronics in properly managed municipal solid waste landfills does not threaten human health and the environment. However, they do support keeping used electronics out of landfills in order to recover materials, reduce the environmental impacts, and energy demands from mining and manufacturing. Electronics are made from valuable resources, such as precious metals, copper, and engineered plastics, all of which require considerable energy to process and manufacture. Recycling electronics recovers valuable materials and as a result reduces greenhouse gas emissions, reduces pollution, saves energy, and save resources by extracting fewer raw materials from the earth (EPA).

On the other hand, many electronics gather dust in storages waiting to be reused, recycled, or thrown away. It is estimated that as much as three quarters of the computers sold in the U.S. are stockpiled in garages and closets. When they are eventually disposed of, they will end up in landfills, incinerators, and exported to other countries. When this e-waste is incinerated, it releases heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury into the air, including ashes. Mercury released into the atmosphere can accumulate in the food chain, particularly in fish, which is the major route of exposure for the general public. If the products contain PVC plastics, highly toxic dioxins and furans are also released. Brominated flame retardants generate brominated dioxins and furans when e-waste is burned (Greenpeace International).

Although reusing is a good way to increase a product's lifespan, many electronics are exported to developing countries. However, this practice is causing serious problems because the electronics are dumped after a short period of use in areas that are unlikely to have hazardous waste facilities. In developed countries, electronic recycling takes place in purpose-built recycling plants under controlled conditions. In developing countries there is no government control or laws; therefore, recycling is done by hand in scrap yards, often by women and children. E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of the international laws which are clearly not working. Countries that are accepting e-waste include Guiya of Guangdong Province the main centre of e-waste scrapping in China, India, Delhi, Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore, and Mumbai (Greenpeace International).

According to the Green Guide by National Geographic (2008), e-waste is hazardous to humans and the environment. They leach into the earth by way of ground water, filling the earth's landfills, and if incinerated they can create air pollution. One type of e-waste is cell phones. These devices cause a severe energy drain because of their rechargeable batteries which includes lithium ion or nickel-cadmium. These batteries need to be plugged in daily to retain a charge. In addition, people leave their cell phones on the charger overnight, even though it takes a few hours to charge. Another problem is that individuals purchase a new device every 18-24 months. The effects of these pollutants on human health include reproductive and neurological disorders as well as kidney and liver damage.

Moreover, there are environmental challenges posed by computers. One of the most threatening chemical found in computers is poly-brominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used in the manufacturing of circuit boards and other electronics components in order to prevent electrical fires. The highest levels have been found in the blood of people who work closely with the chemical; people using computers or living near factories or waste sites are at risk of exposure as well (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry).

In addition, computers consume massive amounts of electricity so making the right choice before you buy a computer will make a huge difference on individual's ecological footprint. The Green Electronics Council's Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) was created by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to help consumers review different computers' environmental standards before making a selection for purchase. The Green Electronics Council has evaluated the environmental effects of six months of computer ecology. By going green, American computer users saved 13.7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and prevented more than a million tons of greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere (EPEAT).

Similarly, most U.S. households own at least one television, turned on for an average of seven hours per day, putting huge demand on power plants. Bigger screens and plasma televisions put even more pressure on the energy grid and emit even more air pollution. According to the Do Something website, flat panel computer monitors and notebooks often contain small amounts of mercury in the bulbs used to light them. Cathode ray tubes in older televisions and

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