We’re always looking to buy the latest phone, replace the ‘idiot box’ with something smarter, or trade-in that laptop for something sleeker. When we buy something new, we get rid of what’s old and it is this cycle of consumption that has made electronic waste (e-waste) the world’s fastest-growing solid waste stream.
But what does this mean for the environment?
Of the estimated 50 million tonnes of e-waste generated globally each year, only 20% is formally recycled, which means the remainder ends up in landfills or is informally recycled, much of it by hand in developing countries, exposing workers to hazardous and carcinogenic substances. E-waste in landfill contaminates soil and groundwater, putting food supply systems and water sources at risk. In India, over 95% of e-waste generated is managed by the unorganised sector and scrap dealers who dismantle the disposed of products rather than recycle them. Electronics are stored in open yards, further increasing the risk of electric leakages.
Harmful Effects of E-waste on the Environment
Improperly disposed e-waste leads to toxins entering groundwater which underlies many surface streams, ponds, and lakes. Toxins like lead, barium, mercury, and lithium are considered carcinogenic. This affects both, animals and people that rely on this water. E-waste can also have a damaging effect on the soil of a region. As e-waste breaks down, it releases toxic heavy metals which influence the plants and trees that depend on this soil. Eventually, these toxins enter the human and animal food supply, which lead to birth defects as well as a number of other health complications.
Burning of e-waste can release hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, which pollutes the air that many animals and humans rely on. Furthermore, these hydrocarbons can contribute to the greenhouse effect, a leading contributor to global warming.
Reduce, Reuse, Repair & Recycle
The first line of defense in minimizing e-waste is to reduce purchases of new electronic devices and electrical equipment. Think twice before buying a new electronic gadget when an upgrade or new device becomes available. And if you need a device, consider buying something second-hand, it’s better for your wallet and the environment.
One way of reducing e-waste is by repurposing it.
A number of NGOs and government schools and colleges need electronics. NGOs often teach basic computer skills to young children and women from underprivileged backgrounds. To impart computer skills, such NGOs and schools don’t need the newest machines; even decades-old computers are useful. When a computer is donated to an NGO, school, or college, not only does it not turn into hazardous e-waste, but it is used to teach and open new vistas of opportunity for many.
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When electronic devices break down, they can often be repaired. Repairing a damaged device can be much cheaper and you don’t have to go through the hassle of transferring your data from one device to another.
Electronic devices are made of a complex mix of materials that include gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, lithium, cobalt, and other valuable elements. These precious materials can be reclaimed through recycling. But electronic devices also comprise of toxic heavy metals, which need to be managed and treated properly.
There are several non-profit organizations that let you dispose of e-waste responsibly. Bengaluru-based Saahas accepts e-waste of more than 10 kg from any individual in the city between Monday to Saturday. There are also start-ups like Namo E-Waste that collect e-waste from various companies and recycles them into different products.
EcoReco is recognized as a leading professional E-waste Management Company for its responsible disposal of electronic waste. They have several drop-off points across Mumbai, if you wish to dispose of your electronic devices, sustainably. You can contact them at 1800-102-1020 or mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. To know more about them you can visit their website here – https://ecoreco.com/sustainability-overview.aspx#
Some reputed tech companies also offer recycling of their devices for free!