E-waste is rapidly becoming a serious threat to the environment as more gadgets are being discarded after use for newer models and snazzier designs. And all these old electronics are either being dumped in landfills or being disposed by untrained workers in the informal electronic waste disposal centres, using primitive and polluting techniques. The problem is electronic waste must be treated and disposed carefully and responsibly, otherwise as these electronics break down, they release toxic heavy metals and other hazardous chemicals into the environment, causing pollution and serious health effects.
While new leaps in technology might have made the world a better place in terms of communication, the dark side of the digital age – e-waste, seems to have become a festering wound that needs to be taken care of before it’s too late. E-waste in India is expected to touch the 1.72 million metric tons by 2020. Another UN report says that e-waste from computers in India is expected to increase by 500% over 2007 levels. Recycling e-waste in an eco-friendly manner is the only we can deal with this problem. But recycling e-waste doesn’t just offer a solution for dealing with e-waste, there are other far reaching benefits too.
E-Waste Recycling – How it Helps the Environment
Prevention of Environmental Contamination - E-waste is full of toxic components like arsenic, lead, mercury, beryllium and chemical flame retardants. When e-waste ends up in landfills, they seep into the ground causing soil pollution and contamination of the groundwater, which can cause severe health issues in nearby communities apart from contaminating other natural resources in the vicinity. Also, improper disposal of e-waste by informal e-waste disposal setups through techniques like incineration and acid stripping releases toxins from e-waste into the atmosphere. For instance, when lead containing e-waste is burnt in local disposal setups, lead is released into the eco-system, which can severely disrupt the normal functioning of water and soil systems. Recycling e-waste in an eco-friendly manner, however, helps address such issues by ensuring that these toxic components are treated carefully and recycled and reused wherever possible, without harming the environment.
Conservation of Energy - In a world that primarily relies on non renewable energy resources for its energy requirements, recycling e-waste can significantly boost energy efficiency through conservation. For instance, manufacture of electronics has become more energy intensive today. A study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production found that, about 70% of the total energy consumption of a typical laptop takes place during its manufacture, and not during its operation. This energy consumption takes into account all the processes involved in the manufacture, right from mining for raw materials to the final packaging. However, the energy and costs involved in recycling e-waste to reclaim and reuse material for manufacturing new products is considerably lower than that of manufacturing costs involved in mining and then processing new raw materials from the soil. Also, reclaiming and reusing material from recycled e-waste has a lower carbon footprint as compared to manufacturing products by mining and processing new material. For instance, recycling aluminium consumes 95% less energy as compared to the mining and production of new aluminium. Recycling e-waste is also less energy intensive, reduces green house gas emission and lowers air pollution.
Conservation of the Earth’s Resources – Electronics are loaded with valuable resources including iron, gold, aluminium, copper and palladium to name a few. With more and more electronics being manufactured each day, more and more of these materials are being used up and we are quite likely to run out of these resources in the near future. However, each day, millions of electronics are also dumped in landfills, making them a treasure trove of such valuable materials. With proper e-waste recycling, such materials can be reclaimed from e-waste and reused for manufacturing new products. Instead of lying in landfills and polluting the environment, e-waste when recycled responsibly can help conserve these rapidly depleting resources.
While e-waste can pose a serious threat if not managed properly, recycling e-waste responsibly can allow us to cut back on environmental pollution through e-waste, as well as help us conserve energy as well as a lot of valuable natural resources. All we need to do, is to make more environmentally conscious decisions when disposing of our old electronics. Don’t just trash them in the garbage can or sell them off to your local scrap dealer, find an eco-friendly e-waste recycler and recycle your e-waste responsibly.