05 October 2007

E-responsibility of e-wastePart — I

A WALK through the history of technology has always proved that it is a double-edged knife. The benefits it brings along are bundled offers with social and environmental evils. As an offspring topic in the recent 'Digital Nation' seminar, online social networking was quoted as one such evil.

A school of thought exists that due to digital life style, various members of the modern family spent less time socialising among themselves, diverting their focus on e-mails, Internet, Chat services, weblogs leading a second life in the digital world. In a similar third-dimension view Digital Oman will look closely into the environmental impact of technology and resulting e-waste this week and the next week.

E-Waste demystified

E-waste management is becoming an e-responsibility: everyone's responsibility in the technology era. To begin with let us understand that the electronic products we use in our daily life, like the computers, printers, calculators, electronic watches, televisions, phones, fax and photocopy machines, audio and video systems, electronic fittings and lamps, gaming systems, batteries, microwave ovens, refrigerators, etc compound to electronic waste that are discarded either due to failure or because they are obsolete.

E-waste is now the fastest-growing part of the municipal waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In California alone, 6,000 computers become obsolete each day. Out of the high volume of discarded and obsolete computers, only 10 per cent are actually recycled. The vast majority of electronics are simply thrown away.

Problem scenario

Unforeseen disasters in several countries have resulted in a lot of electronic garbage piles. Electronic devices by nature tend to become outdated due to rapid advances in technologies. We commonly keep the old ones aside and go for completely new systems which in most cases cannot reuse most parts of the older systems.

For example we have little to do or recover from a failed television, mobile phone or refrigerator. It seems easier to go for a new phone or PC than to repair an old one. The average lifespan of a computer is almost down to 3 yrs after which getting spare-parts or it suitability fore new software is challenged.

Chemical challenge

Computer and other electronic equipments are complex assemblies of several small components assembled over printed circuit boards. Computer monitors (older and most common ones) and televisions have the Cathode Ray Tube as a main component. It is claimed that each such CRT contains toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, barium, mercury, plastic etc.

These materials can cause damage to humans by leading to health complications like kidney, liver and respiratory disorders, genetic and reproductive problems and even damages to the brain and nervous systems. The computer monitor alone can contain more than 6 per cent lead by weight. In addition most materials used in such electronic devices are non-biodegradable.

When unprocessed e-waste is put directly in landfill, flame-resistant plastics, used in electronics casings can release particles that damage human endocrine functions. Thus improper disposal of electronic waste like burning create adverse environmental and ecological impact.

Risk transfer

Most developed nations like the USA and Japan, have strict laws governing disposal of e-waste and their recycling. In result such countries ship them to third world nations which are now becoming the e-waste dump yards.

Nearly 50 to 80 per cent of e-waste recycling by the western world is by simple sending them to countries like Cambodia, China, Pakistan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. Most of these countries lack strict laws regarding the treatment of e-waste.

To continue…Having understood the impact of e-waste and need for its control, Digital Oman will continue next week to look at worldwide control and e-waste management techniques next week.

1 comment:

megascene said...

E-waste recycling is the only solution. Japan and US might have perfected some sort of e-waste management. But it is developing countries that suffer on account of this menace. Toxic dumping can be highly hazardous in future. The Centre, State government and local bodies could possibly work out methods before the issue turns dreadful.