Waste management

What is E-waste, and why it is important?

calendar04 Oct, 2023
timeReading Time: 8 Minutes
What is E-waste, and why it is important

In India, waste management rules and regulations are founded upon the worldwide recognized principles of sustainable development, precautionary principles, and polluter pay principles. These principles require us to act in an environmentally sound and responsible manner and make good the loss, if it occurs, to the environment, i.e. restore it to the way it was before we exploited it and its resources.  In this article, we will delve into a particular environmental concern, which is Electronic Waste. We will here try to comprehend the basics of E-waste along with its definition and the need for proper disposal of the same. We will also have a look at the challenges that may be faced by businesses and consumers of these electronic products and why it is so important to properly manage E-waste.

What is E-waste?

Are you an entity involved in dealing with electronics, but you have no idea how to deal with the waste generated by the end of the day, so you simply throw it in your garbage? If you have been doing that, I suggest you take a pause and read this article.

Before jumping into the article, let us first try and comprehend what is E-waste after all. E-waste refers to Electronic Waste. It is a common term used to describe various types of end-of-life and discarded electrical and electronic equipment; for instance, mobile phones, laptops, household equipment, and other electronic devices that have ceased to be of any use and are now redundant. 

Owing to the exponential increase and dependence on electronic devices, there has been a growing demand for newer versions of electrical equipment and, therefore, a consequent increase in the volume of redundant and unwanted products. Thus, E-waste has become a growing concern for environmentalists as this E-Waste tends to contain high toxins and chemicals that pose not only an environmental threat but also a health hazard. In light of these reasons, E-Waste can in no way be treated like your regular waste, which gets tossed in the trash without sparing a second thought. 

Impact of Electronic Waste on Health

Since E-waste is not biodegradable, it tends to accumulate in the environment and contaminates the air, water, and land. The primitive and non-formal methods that have been in use for so long have exposed living beings to extremely toxic substances contained in these electronics discarded improperly. The components found in the E-Waste are extremely toxic, such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, etc., and are the major causes of health hazards such as neurological damage, birth defects, cancer, etc. Even inhalation of these toxic and harmful substances has proven to be a health hazard. These irreversible health effects are obviously a major area of concern to take E-waste Management seriously. 

Environmental Impacts of E-Waste

Apart from such severe health impacts, the improper disposal of E-waste also causes damage to the environment. During the recycling or dumping process, various toxic and chemical substances get released into the environment that affect the quality of air, groundwater, vegetation, and eventually the food chain as well. 

Categories of Electronic Waste

With the advent of new technology and increased use of electronic devices, the menace of E-waste is also on the rise. The obsolete or dead electronic devices often end up being tossed in landfills due to a lack of awareness about proper and safe disposal techniques of E-waste. Therefore, in order to undertake effective disposal and management of E-waste, there is a pressing need to understand the classification of E-Waste, which is as follows:

CategoryTypes
Screens & MonitorsThese include computers, laptops, tablets, televisions etc. which are the most commonly used electronic devices, and with the advent of new technology, they are the first to become outdated and go obsolete. These devices have toxic chemical components such as mercury, lead, cadmium, etc. that can be extremely harmful for the environment and for our health.
IT and Telecommunication EquipmentThey comprise mobile phones, tablets, GPS, personal computers, routers, etc., that are so commonly used on day-day to basis and even they contain toxic materials like lead and mercury and with frequent updates being launched every now and then, they also contribute majorly to the generation of E-Waste.
Household AppliancesThese include devices like refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, heat pumps, etc. which are also used for regulating heat and temperature and thus contain oils and gases that can be hard to recycle.
Light Bulbs and LampsDevices like fluorescent lamps, high-intensity discharge lamps, and LED lamps are something that is ubiquitously relied on, and they contain toxic metals as well and thus cannot be simply tossed with the regular trash.

Reasons for the growth of Electronic Waste

Apart from the improper management of E-waste in certain regions, there are certain inherent causes for the rapid increase in E-waste, which are as follows:

Technological Advancement

The constant technological advancement and continuous innovations being brought in the IT sector at a dizzying speed have contributed to the generation of E-waste. This occurs in light of developments and updates that are brought to upgrade these electronic devices; however, in the majority of cases, it encourages the consumers to simply discard the obsolete version of the electronic device even though it is properly functional. 

Intentional replacement

A widely known practice adopted by many companies and famous brands is “Intentional Obsolescence”, in which they intentionally design and manufacture products that have a shorter life span or quickly become obsolete. This is often done to encourage to increase in the propensity of the consumer to spend more on the newer and advanced versions of the electronic products and to give a boost to their sales and profitability. This, again, entices the consumers to discard their older electronics and upgrade to newer versions, hence contributing significantly to the generation of Electronic Waste

Ineffective Measures of Recycling and Disposal Techniques

Due to a lack of knowledge and technical know-how, the disposal techniques that were being used for E-waste management were quite primitive and not-so-environmentally friendly. On top of that, there is a lack of awareness amongst the masses regarding the classification of waste, particularly waste generated by the disposal and discarding of electronic devices. Thus, this has further contributed to the increase of E-waste generation.

Need for Proper Segregation and Effective Disposal of E-waste

According to a report by ASSOCHAM-NEC published in 2018, the E-waste generated by India in 2014 was around 12.5 Lakhs metric tons, which saw a major jump to 2 million tons per annum by 2018; however, only 4.5 Lakhs tons of Electronic Waste was collected and recycled, which is alarming and worrisome. Thus, there is clearly a dire need to segregate E-waste and recycle the same before the problem gets out of hand and further in order to prevent the aforementioned environmental and health hazards. 

Importance of Proper Segregation

Before effective disposal, proper segregation is equally significant as the same helps to save time and provides an opportunity for proper treatment of E-waste. It prevents the mixing of hazardous substances with normal waste, which can be discarded without taking any important and effective measures. Segregation allows the recyclers and the concerned centers to separate the toxic components and identify them for recycling or ultimate disposal. 

The E-Waste Challenges in India

India is one of the largest contributors to E-waste, generating millions of tons of electronic waste annually. The propagation of electronic devices in recent times hasn’t helped the situation. Thus, managing and handling E-waste is becoming a pressing concern for the government, and therefore, responsibilities and legal obligations are placed on consumers and businesses to act responsibly. However, there are various challenges faced by these users of electronic devices in the realm of E-waste management, some of which are as follows:

Lack of Awareness

Many users of these electronic devices are oblivious to the health and environmental hazards associated with their improper disposal. This lack of knowledge and know-how leads to careless handling of Electronic waste and mostly results in the dumping of E-waste along with regular waste.

Rapid Technological Developments

As discussed earlier, with the dizzying pace at which technological developments are happening across the world, electronic devices have started getting obsolete at a similar pace, and this rapid turnover contributes heavily to the growing E-waste problem in India. 

Resource Management

The process of segregating, recycling, and handling E-waste is resource-intensive. Small businesses or customers often face the challenge of resource management and thus need to rely on sustainable and cost-effective practices.

Lack of infrastructure

There is an apparent lack of appropriate infrastructure for proper collection, transportation, and disposal of E-waste. Businesses and consumers often find it logistically challenging to manage E-waste on their own without any contribution from the concerned authorities. 

Different Legal Compliances

Different regions often have different regulations and standards for handling e-waste. With limited resources and limited knowledge of the applicable rules, enforcement of the e-waste regulations can be quite challenging. 

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

One of the most significant challenges that businesses tend to face is complying with EPR regulations. In countries like India, where the onus has been shifted to entities like producers, manufacturers, importers, etc., the establishment of collection centers, recycling facilities, and adoption of safe disposal methods are also required to be seen by them and ensuring these obligations can be quite burdensome and expensive at the same time. 

Data Privacy Concerns

Throwing away Electronic waste or donating them for recycling, which may sound so environmentally sound, can still be not enticing enough for businesses and consumers because of the data privacy concerns it carries. These electronics contain so much data that, if not wiped completely, can cause serious privacy issues for the stakeholders[1]. Thus, businesses can be made liable for the privacy breach of their employees and clients on improper disposal of such waste. In the era of hacking, phishing scams, and identity thefts.

Conclusion

E-waste is a growing environmental and health concern because of the presence of toxic chemicals in it, and we cannot see it going away any time soon. Rather, it is only going to get worse. In light of the afore-discussed adverse effects it can have, proper management of Electronic Waste is the need of the hour. It has become a complex and pressing concern for businesses and consumers alike. While businesses have to grapple and struggle with arduous regulatory compliances, limited resource management, and numerous logistic challenges, consumers have to face the challenges of lack of awareness and resources as well.

E-waste becomes a problem only if it is not discarded and disposed of properly or not recycled as per the prescribed scientific methods. It becomes a threat only if it is treated by primitive and informal methods, as prevalent in many developing countries. Thus, in order to mitigate these concerns, it is imperative that people become more aware of the consequences of improper handling of their electronic waste and, at the same time, of their responsibilities towards adopting safe environmental practices.

FAQs: 

What is the definition of E-waste?

E-waste is a term used to describe discarded electronic waste. It basically refers to various types of end-of-life and discarded electrical and electronic equipment, for instance, mobile phones, laptops, household equipment, and other electronic devices, that have ceased to be of any use and are now redundant.

Is there a clear definition of E-waste?

There is no specific definition of E-waste. It is a generic term that is employed to describe various electronic devices that are old, no longer in use, obsolete, or near their end-of-life cycle, or completely dead electrical devices.

What is the definition of E-waste management?

E-waste management refers to a safe environmental practice that requires the reuse or safe and proper disposal of electronic equipment. It involved deploying effective collection, transportation, recycling, and disposal of electronic waste in an environmentally sound manner.

Why is E-waste management important?

E-waste includes certain toxic metals and chemicals that tend to accumulate in our environment and result in high levels of pollution. Apart from the environmental concerns, the toxins released from E-waste are known to have severe adverse effects on the health of living beings. Due to these concerns in mind, along with the rapid technological advancement, E-waste is one of the fastest-growing concerns; therefore, it becomes essential to come up with rules and regulations pertaining to E-waste management.

What is the aim of e-waste management?

E-waste management aims to ensure proper disposal of unwanted electronic devices using scientific and environmentally friendly methodologies. The idea is not to reduce the usage of these electronic devices but rather to reduce the e-waste being generated by allowing opportunities for reuse and recycling, and if that is not possible, then going for proper disposal of waste so generated.

What are the major impacts of e-waste?

E-waste has led to detrimental environmental impacts. The improper and primitive methods employed in discarding these unwanted electronic gadgets have led to the release of toxic chemicals and gases into the environment, which has led to severe pollution of air, land, and water. In addition to the environmental impacts, this contamination due to elements like lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, etc., leads to irreversible health effects and becomes a major cause of health hazards such as neurological damage, birth defects, cancer, etc.

What is the impact of waste?

With increased population, urbanization, and industrialization, the generation of waste is also on the increase, which tends to have adverse effects on the quality of the environment and, consequently on the quality of life. When this waste is simply tossed aside without employing any prescribed scientific methods, it ends up filling landfills or being incinerated, which creates significant environmental and health effects.

Why is E-waste management important to the environment?

E-waste management is significantly important for the environment as E-waste is non-biodegradable, and if discarded improperly, it can lead to environmental hazards. During the recycling or dumping process, various toxic and chemical substances get released into the environment that affect the quality of air, groundwater, vegetation, and eventually the food chain as well. Thus, it becomes imperative on our part to be extremely careful while handling unwanted electronic devices and be aware of the E-waste management techniques prescribed by the concerned authorities.

Read Our Article: What Are The Objectives Of E-Waste Management?

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