Where Does E-Waste Go?
Electronic waste is the waste generated from discarded electronic devices. Electrical devices that are no longer in use or those meant to be recycled or reused can also be considered e-waste. E-waste is considered to be one of the most dangerous/hazardous forms of waste due to the high level of chemicals such as lead, beryllium etc. present in the electrical components.
Effects on Environment and Human Health
Electronic waste, if not handled with the utmost care, can cause harmful effects to the environment. The acid from leaking chips and other electrical components pollute the ground water. A classic example is the Guiyu area in Hong Kong which faces acute water shortage due to contamination. Uncontrolled fires may arise if e-waste is not treated properly.
Where Does E-Waste Go? It Depends on End-of-Life Management
Proper treatment of e-waste requires proper planning from the government and the private players in the market. The number and weight of products that will become obsolete and would need end-of-life management must be calculated. An estimate has to be drawn up on which end-of-life product will become obsolete and which can be reused.
For effective e-waste management, the product lifecycle must be thoroughly understood. The estimate of the annual quantities of end-of-life products requiring management must be equated to the industrial production of electronic goods, to draw a pattern which would help the recycling industries better predict and analyze the waste management system. A typical lifecycle of an electronic product resulting to an e-waste would be in the order below –
- Product Purchase
- Resale after recycle within the US /Resale after recycle outside the US
- Process in the US /Process outside the US
- New Products/Residual disposal
Statistics on E-Waste
- E-waste represents about 2% of America’s trash in landfills. It also equals 70% of overall toxic waste.
- Cell phones and other items generally contain high amounts of gold and silver which in turn amounts to about $60 million dollars every year.
- Only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled.
- Recycling 1 million laptops equals powering 3,657 US homes a year.
Strategies Employed in E-Waste Management
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) assigns the collection and recycling responsibility to the manufacturer. In a way, EPR is a form of Corporate Social Responsibility which would account the manufacturer for planning the end-of-life of products through a structured IT asset disposition program during the design phase. This would help them to use environmentally-friendly and easily recyclable raw materials, minimize packaging or adopt recyclable packaging, consider the judicious use of toxic substances while manufacturing, and what’s becoming more increasingly important for large corporations – the secure destruction of sensitive dats.
Advance Recycling Fee is another strategy that tries to solve the ‘where does e-waste go’ conundrum. This is where the customer pays a fee at the point of purchase that would depend on the size of the electronic device. Regardless of customer or manufacturer, the end-of-life management costs are incorporated into the market price. This would result in either a reduction in sales or increase in sales price. However, this is an effective e-waste management strategy as it inculcates a feeling of social responsibility right from the beginning of purchase.