How To Make A Positive Impact With Electronic Waste Recycling

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Electronic recycling

Introduction :

Electronic waste is the fastest rising waste stream in the world and is becoming a global environmental concern. E-waste is mostly either landfilled or incinerated, posing human health hazards as hazardous pollutants are released. However, there are not just environmental factors for proper disposal. E-waste includes essential resources such as gold, silver, and platinum. It is projected that billions of dollars worth of these valuable metals are discarded every year. Electronic recycling is the only way forward to avoid these monetary and environmental damages.

In 2019, temperature exchange equipment such as fridges and air-conditioning units amounted to 17.4 million metric tons of global e-waste. This was an increase of 7% compared to the volume recorded in 2014.

What is E-waste ?  and why is it a problem?

Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, consists of all kinds of electronic devices that are thrown away after their limited usable period has been depleted. Most electronic devices contain toxic metals like lead, cadmium, mercury and others that contaminate the environment when they are dumped in the landfill. Toxic metals in e-waste are commonly non-biodegradable and can have adverse long-lasting negative impacts on the environment in general and on our health in particular.  E-waste disposal gradually pollutes the atmosphere and is a rising concern worldwide. Proper management of emissions from e-waste is a global problem.

The planet is facing an e-waste crisis as per the United Nations.  The main challenges  are as follows:

  • How to make electronic devices more sustainable and environmentally friendly. 
  • How to prolong the life of the electronics used by refurbishing/reusing and other ways.
  • To provide a useful and flexible, cost-effective framework for worldwide e-waste management focusing on environmental protection by using appropriate methods such as recycling, refurbishing and reusing and by other appropriate means.

In today’s dynamic and digitized world, environmental pollution is boundless and usually flows through international borders. Environmental pollution in the form of e-waste is a rising problem in the world and its proper management is a global issue.  Most electronic devices contain various forms of toxic metals. Some examples are mercury, cadmium, lead and others. All these metals will easily contaminate the atmosphere when they are dumped.

Based on an estimate by the U.S. based Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

  • Over 130 million units of electronic devices of all sorts are “retired” every year by Americans.
  • Over two million tons of e-waste are dumped on the landfill every year.
  • Thrown away e-waste also known as e-scrap makes about 70% of heavy metal disposal in the United States.

Moreover, over 80% of electronic products that are recyclable are shipped from wealthy western countries like the U.S., European Union and other developed nations to poor countries in Asia and Africa.

What are the types of e-waste?

  • Computer and telecommunications equipment (laptops, PCs, telephones, mobile phones etc.) 
  • Major appliances (refrigerators, washing machines, dryers etc.)
  • Small appliances (vacuum cleaners, irons, blenders, fryers etc.)
  • Consumer electronics (video and audio equipment, musical instruments)
  • Toys, leisure (electronic toys, models, sports equipment)
  • Clinical devices and appliances (all medical equipment with the exception of implants)
  • Monitoring devices (detectors, thermostats, laboratory equipment etc.)
  • Vending machines  
  • Devices for Lighting purpose (incandescent light bulbs, fluorescent tubes, gas-discharge lamps etc.)
  • Electronic and electronic instruments (drills, saws, gardening devices etc.)

Countries that produce E-waste and the country which recycle E-waste the most?

China is the largest source of electronic waste in the world, producing more than 10 million metric tons in 2019. This was followed by the United States, where about 7 million metric tons were produced. Global electronic waste production was around 54 million metric tons in 2019 and is expected to increase further in the coming years.

Leading countries based on generation of electronic waste worldwide in 2019(in 1,000 metric tons)

E-waste producing countries in 2019

Projected electronic waste generation worldwide from 2019 to 2030 (in million metric tons)

Global e-waste generation contributed to 53.6 million metric tons in 2019.E-waste is the fastest growing waste source and is projected to rise in the next decade. Estimates say that global e-waste volume will be about 80 million metric tons by 2030. Asia is the continent with the much e-waste generation, most of which is generated in China. 

Switzerland has successfully implemented the e-waste program. However, it is expensive and one size may not fit everyone, especially for developing countries. He followed a Swiss model (called the wheel of life).

The Swiss “Wheel of Life” model includes of 5 stages:

Swiss model for E-waste recycling
  1. Buy: The first step in the Swiss e-waste process is when a new electronic product is purchased. For any electrical and electronic equipment, no matter what is purchased, or its point of sale, the consumer is charged an Advanced Recycling Charge (ARF) that is required for safe disposal at the end of the life of the product. – Covers beneficial procedures. The quantity of ARF is defined by the type of product and is included in its selling price. In lieu of ARF, consumers can return retired equipment free of charge to all collection sites in the region. 
  2. Return: The second phase is when a product arrives at the end of its life. Consumers are not permitted to dispose of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) by any means other than dedicated collection points. Retailers are required to withdraw electronics free of any purchase for all types of products and to be independent. For example, if a retailer sells only Dell computers, they should still get the HP computer back, but not necessarily the refrigerator. Producers must then safely dispose of the collected items through four independent Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs). These four organizations and their areas of responsibility are different. Each of these four entities deals with various types of e-waste. The main goal here is to prevent electronics from reaching landfill. 
  3. Detox: In the detox process, all vital components are carefully removed from the eWaste so that the downstream processes are not contaminated by toxins. Detox requires large amounts of manual labor and is considered an unprofitable part of the process. ARFs are used to cover these costs. This manual method is also outsourced to social institutions in the vicinity.
  4. Shred: This mechanical processing is the next step in e-waste treatment to achieve concentrations of recycled materials in a dedicated manner for an industrial, large-scale operation in general and further hazardous materials. Typical machines/components include crushing systems, shredders, magnetic separators and air separators. Gas emissions are filtered and wastes are treated to reduce environmental impact. Indoor exposures are monitored and evaluated to ensure workers’ safety.
  5. Refine: E-waste is the last step of “wheel of life” refinement. It is possible to refine resources from e-waste and technical solutions exist to extract raw materials with minimal environmental impact. Most of the extracted elements must be refined (or rebuilt) before being sold as secondary raw materials or disposed of in the final disposal site. Many of these purification processes occur outside Switzerland. The process of refining focuses on three main materials: metal, plastic, and glass.

How do we reduce the growing issue of e-waste?

The manufacturing of these devices and the use of rare materials which are used to produce them constitute an enormous source of incarnated energy. Minimizing e-waste helps save water and decreases the amount of energy we draw from the earth. 

  • Re-assess.-Are you still in need of that extra gadget? Try to find a computer with different features
  • Extend the life of your electronics company. Buy a case, keep your computer clean, and stop overloading the battery.
  • Buy environmentally friendly electronics- Please look for items classified as Energy Star or accredited by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).
  • Donate used electronics for social programs—which helped victims of domestic abuse, children’s safety projects, environmental issues, and more. Ask your REP student for a paid mailer for your mobile phone or ink cartridge. The World Wildlife Fund will receive one dollar for each item received.
  • Reuse large electronics
  • Recycle electronics and batteries in e-waste recycling bins throughout the school-Large electronics can be found in the larger bins in your home.

How to make money out of scrap electronics?

There are a number of ways to make money from scrap electronics and TVs.According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 29.4 million computers, 22.7 million television sets and 129 million mobile devices were discarded in 2009. The Agency reports that most of these have not yet been processed for recycling, which means that there is a chance for those looking to make money from scrap electronics.

  1. Sell electronics for scrap metal. Most electronics have a demand for plastics, glass and metals. Some people could be dealing with a tough economy by setting up recycling companies. They collect electronic scrap and sell it to customers who reuse the goods for the industry. You can also do this on an individual basis by selling your old broken iPod or mobile phone to an online business that will refurbish and resell it. Or, if you have technological skills, you can collect broken mobile phones from other people and fix and resell them yourself.
  2. Haul it away -If you have a truck or van and a few helpers, you can charge others to get rid of their broken TVs and electronics. Note that if you follow this path, you must be familiar with the laws governing the proper disposal of electronics, in particular TV and computer monitors. They contain many radioactive elements and must be disposed of safely in order to prevent pollution of the environment. 
  3. Transform it. Use electronic components to make something entirely new that you can sell. Some enterprising artists have taken elements of discarded electronic devices and produced works of art that have been sold for hundreds of dollars. If you’re not that creative, make a craft piece. For example, a computer tower could be gutted and used as a funky mailbox, with a drive bay acting as a mail slot.

Interesting news about E-Waste

1. Researchers discover biological recycling process for e-waste

A team of scientists from the Czech Republic and Austria have discovered a biological process for removing precious metals from the electrical equipment used. The research sponsored by the ERDF aims to make it possible to recycle these recovered materials for new goods, making manufacturing cheaper and more resource-effective.

Researchers observed that bacteria naturally occurring in earth containing precious metals could be used to extract metals from electronic waste such as cell phones, computers and cameras. These unusual materials are also environmentally harmful, but the only by-product of the new method tends to be green waste that can then be used as a garden fertilizer.

2. Japan is planning to make Olympic medals out of electronic waste

The organizers of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have recently announced that they would make gold, silver and bronze medals awarded at the Game from materials recovered from electronics donated by the public.

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