Electronic Waste (e-Waste)Threat and opportunityThe Challenge: e-Waste is a Ticking Time Bomb"E-waste" is a popular, informal name forelectronic products nearing the end of their"useful life. "E-wastes are considereddangerous, as certain components of someelectronic products contain materials that arehazardous, depending on their condition anddensity. The hazardous content of thesematerials pose a threat to human health andenvironment. Discarded computers, televisions,VCRs, stereos, copiers, fax machines, electriclamps, cell phones, audio equipment andbatteries if improperly disposed can leach leadand other substances into soil and groundwater.Many of these products can be reused,refurbished, or recycled in an environmentallysound manner so that they are less harmful tothe ecosystem. This paper highlights the hazardsof e-wastes, the need for its appropriatemanagement and options that can be implemented.INTRODUCTIONIndustrial revolution followed by the advancesin information technology during the lastcentury has radically changed peopleslifestyle. Although this development has helpedthe human race, mismanagement has led to newproblems of contamination and pollution. Thetechnical prowess acquired during the last
century has posed a new challenge in themanagement of wastes. For example, personalcomputers (PCs) contain certain components,which are highly toxic, such as chlorinated andbrominated substances, toxic gases, toxicmetals, biologically active materials, acids,plastics and plastic additives. The hazardouscontent of these materials pose an environmentaland health threat. Thus proper management isnecessary while disposing or recycling ewastes.These days computer has become most common andwidely used gadget in all kinds of activitiesranging from schools, residences, offices tomanufacturing industries. E-toxic components incomputers could be summarized as circuit boardscontaining heavy metals like lead & cadmium;batteries containing cadmium; cathode ray tubeswith lead oxide & barium; brominated flameretardants used on printed circuit boards,cables and plastic casing; poly vinyl chloride(PVC) coated copper cables and plastic computercasings that release highly toxic dioxins &furans when burnt to recover valuable metals;mercury switches; mercury in flat screens; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) present in oldercapacitors; transformers; etc. Basel ActionNetwork (BAN) estimates that the 500 millioncomputers in the world contain 2.87 billion kgsof plastics, 716.7 million kgs of lead and286,700 kgs of mercury. The average 14-inchmonitor uses a tube that contains an estimated2.5 to 4 kgs of lead. The lead can seep into theground water from landfills thereby
contaminating it. If the tube is crushed andburned, it emits toxic fumes into the air.EFFECTS ON ENVIRONMENT ANDHUMAN HEALTHDisposal of e-wastes is a particular problemfaced in many regions across the globe. Computerwastes that are landfilled produces contaminatedleachates which eventually pollute thegroundwater. Acids and sludge obtained frommelting computer chips, if disposed on theground causes acidification of soil. Forexample, Guiyu, Hong Kong a thriving area ofillegal e-waste recycling is facing acute watershortages due to the contamination of waterresources.This is due to disposal of recycling wastes suchas acids, sludge etc. in rivers. Now water isbeing transported from faraway towns to cater tothe demands of the population. Incineration ofe-wastes can emit toxic fumes and gases, therebypolluting the surrounding air. Improperlymonitored landfills can cause environmentalhazards. Mercury will leach when certainelectronic devices, such as circuit breakers aredestroyed. The same is true for polychlorinatedbiphenyls (PCBs) from condensers. Whenbrominated flame retardant plastic or cadmiumcontaining plastics are landfilled, bothpolybrominated dlphenyl ethers (PBDE) andcadmium may leach into the soil and groundwater.It has been found that significant amounts oflead ion are dissolved from broken lead
containing glass, such as the cone glass ofcathode ray tubes, gets mixed with acid watersand are a common occurrence in landfills.Not only does the leaching of mercury posesspecific problems, the vaporization of metallicmercury and dim ethylene mercury, both part ofWaste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)is also of concern. In addition, uncontrolledfires may arise at landfills and this could be afrequent occurrence in many countries. Whenexposed to fire, metals and other chemicalsubstances, such as the extremely toxic dioxinsand furans (TCDD tetrachloride dibenzo-dioxin,PCDDs-polychlorinated dibenzodioxins. PBDDs-polybrominated dibenzo-dioxin and PCDFspolychlorinated dibenzo furans) from halogenatedflame retardant products and PCB containingcondensers can be emitted. The most dangerousform of burning e-waste is the open-air burningof plastics in order to recover copper and othermetals. The toxic fall-out from open air burningaffects both the local environment and broaderglobal air currents, depositing highly toxicbyproducts in many places throughout the world.Table I summarizes the health effects of certainconstituents in e-wastes. If these electronicitems are discarded with other householdgarbage, the toxics pose a threat to both healthand vital components of the ecosystem. In viewof the ill-effects of hazardous wastes to bothenvironment and health, several countriesexhorted the need for a global agreement toaddress the problems and challenges posed byhazardous waste. Also, in the late 1980s, a
tightening of environmental regulations inindustrialized countries led to a dramatic risein the cost of hazardous waste disposal.Searching for cheaper ways to get rid of thewastes, "toxic traders" began shipping hazardouswaste to developing countries. Internationaloutrage following these irresponsible activitiesled to the drafting and adoption of strategicplans and regulations at the Basel Convention.The Convention secretariat, in Geneva,Switzerland, facilitates and implementation ofthe Convention and related agreements. It alsoprovides assistance and guidelines on legal andtechnical issues, gathers statistical data, andconducts training on the proper management ofhazardous waste.Table I: Effects of E-Waste constituent onhealth Source of e- Constituent Health effects wastes Damage to Solder in central and printed peripheral circuit nervous boards, glass systems, blood Lead (PB) systems and panels and gaskets in kidney damage. computer Affects brain monitors development of children. Chip resistors Toxic Cadmium and irreversible (CD) semiconductors effects on
human health. Accumulates in kidney and liver. Causes neural damage. Teratogenic. Chronic damage to the brain.Relays and Respiratoryswitches, Mercury and skinprinted (Hg) disorders duecircuit boards to bioaccumulatio n in fishes.Corrosionprotection ofuntreated and Asthmatic Hexavalentgalvanized bronchitis. chromiumsteel plates, DNA damage. (Cr) VIdecorator orhardener forsteel housings Burning produces dioxin. It causes ReproductiveCabling and Plastics andcomputer including developmentalhousing PVC problems; Immune system damage; Interfere with regulatory
hormones Plastic housing of Brominated Disrupts electronic flame endocrine equipments and retardants system circuit (BFR) functions boards. Short term exposure causes: Muscle Front panel of Barium (Ba) weakness; CRTs Damage to heart, liver and spleen. Carcinogenic (lung cancer) Inhalation of fumes and dust. Causes Beryllium chronic Motherboard (Be) beryllium disease or beryllicosis. Skin diseases such as warts.A set. Of interrelated and mutually supportivestrategies are proposed to support the concreteimplementation of the activities as indicated inthe website(www.basel.int/DraftstrateKJcpian4Seot.pdf) isdescribed below:
1. To involve experts in designing communication tools for creating awareness at the highest level to promote the aims of the Basel Declaration on environmentally sound management and the ratification and implementation of the Basel Convention, its amendments and protocol with the emphasis on the short-term activities.2. To engage and stimulate a group of interested parties to assist the secretariat in exploring fund raising strategies including the preparation of projects and in making full use of expertise in non- governmental organizations and other institutions in joint projects.3. To motivate selective partners among various stakeholders to bring added value to making progress in the short-term.4. To disseminate and make information easily accessible through the internet and other electronic and printed materials on the transfer of know-how, in particular through Basel Convention Regional Centers (BCRCs).5. To undertake periodic review of activities in relation to the agreed indicators;6. To collaborate with existing institutions and programmes to promote better use of cleaner technology and its transfer, methodology, economic instruments or policy to facilitate or support capacity-building for the environmentally sound management of hazardous and other wastes.
Management of resourcesIt is estimated that 75% of electronic items arestored due to uncertainty of how to manage it.These electronic junks lie unattended in houses,offices, warehouses etc. and normally mixed withhousehold wastes, which are finally disposed offat landfills. This necessitates implementablemanagement measures.In industries management of e-waste should beginat the point of generation. This can be done bywaste minimization techniques and by sustainableproduct design. Waste minimization in industriesinvolves adopting: inventory management, production-process modification, volume reduction, Recovery and reuse.Inventory managementProper control over the materials used in themanufacturing process is an important way toreduce waste generation (Freeman, 1989). Byreducing both the quantity of hazardousmaterials used in the process and the amount ofexcess raw materials in stock, the quantity ofwaste generated can be reduced. This can be donein two ways i.e. establishing material-purchasereview and control procedures and inventorytracking system.Developing review procedures for all materialpurchased is the first step in establishing an
inventory management program. Procedures shouldrequire that all materials be approved prior topurchase. In the approval process all productionmaterials are evaluated to examine if theycontain hazardous constituents and whetheralternative non-hazardous materials areavailable.Another inventory management procedure for wastereduction is to ensure that only the neededquantity of a material is ordered. This willrequire the establishment of a strict inventorytracking system. Purchase procedures must beimplemented which ensure that materials areordered only on an as-needed basis and that onlythe amount needed for a specific period of timeis ordered.Production-process modificationChanges can be made in the production process,which will reduce waste generation. Thisreduction can be accomplished by changing thematerials used to make the product or by themore efficient use of input materials in theproduction process or both. Potential wasteminimization techniques can be broken down intothree categories:i) Improved operating and maintenanceprocedures,ii) Material change andiii)Process-equipment modification.
Improvements in the operation and maintenance ofprocess equipment can result in significantwaste reduction. This can be accomplished byreviewing current operational procedures or lackof procedures and examination of the productionprocess for ways to improve its efficiency.Instituting standard operation procedures canoptimize the use of raw materials in theproduction process and reduce the potential formaterials to be lost through leaks and spills. Astrict maintenance program, which stressescorrective maintenance, can reduce wastegeneration caused by equipment failure. Anemployee-training program is a key element ofany waste reduction program. Training shouldinclude correct operating and handlingprocedures, proper equipment use, recommendedmaintenance and inspection schedules, correctprocess control specifications and propermanagement of waste materials.Hazardous materials used in either a productformulation or a production process may bereplaced with a less hazardous or non-hazardousmaterial. This is a very widely used techniqueand is applicable to most manufacturingprocesses. Implementation of this waste -reduction technique may require only some minorprocess adjustments or it may require extensivenew process equipment. For example, a circuitboard manufacturer can replace solvent-basedproduct with water-based flux and simultaneouslyreplace solvent vapor degreaser with detergentparts washer.
Installing more efficient process equipment ormodifying existing equipment to take advantageof better production techniques cansignificantly reduce waste generation. New orupdated equipment can use process materials moreefficiently producing less waste. Additionallysuch efficiency reduces the number of rejectedor off-specification products, thereby reducingthe amount of material which has to be reworkedor disposed of. Modifying existing processequipment can be a very cost-effective method ofreducing waste generation. In many cases themodification can just be relatively simplechanges in the way the materials are handledwithin the process to ensure that they are notwasted. For example, in many electronicmanufacturing operations, which involve coatinga product, such as electroplating or painting,chemicals are used to strip off coating fromrejected products so that they can be recoated.These chemicals, which can include acids,caustics, cyanides etc are often a hazardouswaste and must be properly managed. By reducingthe number of parts that have to be reworked,the quantity of waste can be significantlyreduced.Volume reductionVolume reduction includes those techniques thatremove the hazardous portion of a waste from anon-hazardous portion. These techniques areusually to reduce the volume, and thus the costof disposing of a waste material. The techniquesthat can be used to reduce waste-stream volume
can be divided into 2 general categories: sourcesegregation and waste concentration. Segregationof wastes is in many cases a simple andeconomical technique for waste reduction. Wastescontaining different types of metals can betreated separately so that the metal value inthe sludge can be recovered. Concentration of awaste stream may increase the likelihood thatthe material can be recycled or reused. Methodsinclude gravity and vacuum filtration, ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, freeze vaporizationetc.For example, an electronic componentmanufacturer can use compaction equipments toreduce volume of waste cathode ray-tube.Recovery and reuseThis technique could eliminate waste disposalcosts, reduce raw material costs and provideincome from a salable waste. Waste can berecovered on-site, or at an off-site recoveryfacility, or through inter industry exchange. Anumber of physical and chemical techniques areavailable to reclaim a waste material such asreverse osmosis, electrolysis, condensation,electrolytic recovery, filtration,centrifugation etc. For example, a printed-circuit board manufacturer can use electrolyticrecovery to reclaim metals from copper and tin-lead plating bath.However recycling of hazardous products haslittle environmental benefit if it simply movesthe hazards into secondary products that
eventually have to be disposed of. Unless thegoal is to redesign the product to use non-hazardous materials, such recycling is a falsesolution.Sustainable product designMinimization of hazardous wastes should be atproduct design stage itself keeping in mind thefollowing factors* Rethink the product design: Efforts should be made to design a product with fewer amounts of hazardous materials. For example, the efforts to reduce material use are reflected in some new computer designs that are flatter, lighter and more integrated. Other companies propose centralized networks similar to the telephone system. Use of renewable materials and energy: Bio- based plastics are plastics made with plant- based chemicals or plant-produced polymers rather than from petrochemicals. Bio-based toners, glues and inks are used more frequently. Solar computers also exist but they are currently very expensive. Use of non-renewable materials that are safer: Because many of the materials used are non-renewable, designers could ensure the product is built for re-use, repair and/or upgradeability. Some computer manufacturers such as Dell and Gateway lease out their products thereby ensuring they get them back to further upgrade and lease out again.
* http://www.svtc.org/ cIeancclDubs/savno.htm)THE INDIAN SCENARIOWhile the world is marveling at thetechnological revolution, countries like Indiaare facing an imminent danger. E-waste ofdeveloped countries, such as the US, disposestheir wastes to India and other Asian countries.A recent investigation revealed that much of theelectronics turned over for recycling in theUnited States ends up in Asia, where they areeither disposed of or recycled with little or noregard for environmental or worker health andsafety. Major reasons for exports are cheaplabor and lack of environmental and occupationalstandards in Asia and in this way the toxiceffluent of the developed nations would floodtowards the worlds poorest nations. Themagnitude of these problems is yet to bedocumented. However, groups like Toxic LinksIndia are already working on collating data thatcould be a step towards controlling thishazardous trade.It is imperative that developing countries andIndia in particular wake up to the monopoly ofthe developed countries and set up appropriatemanagement measures to prevent the hazards andmishaps due to mismanagement of e-wastes.MANAGEMENT OPTIONSConsidering the severity of the problem, it isimperative that certain management options be
adopted to handle the bulk e-wastes. Followingare some of the management options suggested forthe government, industries and the public.Responsibilities of the Government(i) Governments should set up regulatoryagencies in each district, which are vested withthe responsibility of co-ordinating andconsolidating the regulatory functions of thevarious government authorities regardinghazardous substances.(ii) Governments should be responsible forproviding an adequate system of laws, controlsand administrative procedures for hazardouswaste management (Third World Network. 1991).Existing laws concerning e-waste disposal bereviewed and revamped. A comprehensive law thatprovides e-waste regulation and management andproper disposal of hazardous wastes is required.Such a law should empower the agency to control,supervise and regulate the relevant activitiesof government departments.Under this law, the agency concerned should o Collect basic information on the materials from manufacturers, processors and importers and to maintain an inventory of these materials. The information should include toxicity and potential harmful effects. o Identify potentially harmful substances and require the industry to test them for adverse health and environmental effects.
o Control risks from manufacture, processing, distribution, use and disposal of electronic wastes. o Encourage beneficial reuse of "e-waste" and encouraging business activities that use waste". Set up programs so as to promote recycling among citizens and businesses. o Educate e-waste generators on reuse/recycling options(iii) Governments must encourage research intothe development and standard of hazardous wastemanagement, environmental monitoring and theregulation of hazardous waste-disposal.(iv) Governments should enforce strictregulations against dumping e-waste in thecountry by outsiders. Where the laws areflouted, stringent penalties must be imposed. Inparticular, custodial sentences should bepreferred to paltry fines, which these outsiders/ foreign nationals can pay.(v) Governments should enforce strictregulations and heavy fines levied onindustries, which do not practice wasteprevention and recovery in the productionfacilities.(vi) Polluter pays principle and extendedproducer responsibility should be adopted.(vii) Governments should encourage and supportNGOs and other organizations to involve activelyin solving the nations e-waste problems.
(viii) Uncontrolled dumping is an unsatisfactorymethod for disposal of hazardous waste andshould be phased out.(viii) Governments should explore opportunitiesto partner with manufacturers and retailers toprovide recycling services.Responsibility and Role ofindustries 1. Generators of wastes should take responsibility to determine the output characteristics of wastes and if hazardous, should provide management options. 2. All personnel involved in handling e- waste in industries including those at the policy, management, control and operational levels, should be properly qualified and trained. Companies can adopt their own policies while handling e-wastes. Some are given below: Use label materials to assist in recycling (particularly plastics). Standardize components for easy disassembly. Re-evaluate cheap products use, make product cycle cheap and so that it has no inherent value that would encourage a recycling infrastructure. Create computer components and peripherals of biodegradable materials.
Utilize technology sharing particularly for manufacturing and de manufacturing. Encourage / promote / require green procurement for corporate buyers. Look at green packaging options.3. Companies can and should adopt wasteminimization techniques, which will make asignificant reduction in the quantity of e-waste generated and thereby lessening theimpact on the environment. It is a "reverseproduction" system that designsinfrastructure to recover and reuse everymaterial contained within e-wastes metalssuch as lead, copper, aluminum and gold, andvarious plastics, glass and wire. Such a"closed loop" manufacturing and recoverysystem offers a win-win situation foreveryone, less of the Earth will be minedfor raw materials, and groundwater will beprotected, researchers explain.4. Manufacturers, distributors, andretailers should undertake theresponsibility of recycling/disposal oftheir own products.5. Manufacturers of computer monitors,television sets and other electronic devicescontaining hazardous materials must beresponsible for educating consumers and thegeneral public regarding the potentialthreat to public health and the environmentposed by their products. At minimum, allcomputer monitors, television sets and other
electronic devices containing hazardous materials must be clearly labeled to identify environmental hazards and proper materials management.Responsibilities of the CitizenWaste prevention is perhaps more preferred toany other waste management option includingrecycling. Donating electronics for reuseextends the lives of valuable products and keepsthem out of the waste management system for alonger time. But care should be taken whiledonating such items i.e. the items should be inworking condition.Reuse, in addition to being an environmentallypreferable alternative, also benefits society.By donating used electronics, schools, non-profit organizations, and lower-income familiescan afford to use equipment that they otherwisecould not afford.E-wastes should never be disposed with garbageand other household wastes. This should besegregated at the site and sold or donated tovarious organizations.While buying electronic products opt for thosethat: o are made with fewer toxic constituents o use recycled content o are energy efficient o are designed for easy upgrading or disassembly
o utilize minimal packaging o offer leasing or take back options o have been certified by regulatory authorities. Customers should opt for upgrading their computers or other electronic items to the latest versions rather than buying new equipments.NGOs should adopt a participatory approach inmanagement of e-wastes.ACKNOWLEDGEMENTWe thank the Ministry of Environment andForests, Government of India and IndianInstitute of Science for sustained support inour research endeavor.-Freeman M. H. 1989. Standard Handbook ofHazardous Waste Treatment and Disposal, McGraw-Hill Company, USA.REFERENCES-Third World Network. 1991. Toxic Terror:Dumping of Hazardous Wastes in the Third World,Third World Network, Malaysia.