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Electronic Waste or E-Waste

Written By: 

Ashok Sharma
Have you ever given a thought what happens when you throw or sell your old cell phone or personal computer? Where does it go? And how it affects the atmosphere? Electronic waste or e-waste are those electrical and electronic items that are no longer usable or have been replaced by the new generation version. Computers, cell phones, televisions, refrigerators, air conditioners, DVDs, iPods, copiers, and fax machines are common electronic products, which eventually turn to e-wastes. According to researchers nearly 75 percent of old electronic products are dumped in storage because of the uncertainty of how to manage these materials. Although many of these materials can be reused, refurbished, or recycled but unfortunately they are not, thus making the electronic discards as one of the fastest growing segments of world’s waste stream.

A Representational Image of Electronic Waste or E-waste

Fig. 1: A Representational Image of Electronic Waste or E-waste


With the growth of technology many new companies are stepping in the market with new and/or new versions of the products like laptops, computers, cell phones, televisions, music players etc. Disposal of computers and cell phones is the major segment of electronic waste. As technology improves the lifespan for electronic devices such as computers and cell phones becomes shorter. In developed countries these electronics have an average life span of two years. In the Unites States there are more than 300 million obsolete computers. Although most electronic devices that are thrown away still have parts that are reusable.
Current Scenario
Rapid product innovations and replacement especially in IT sector combined with migration from analogue to digital techniques have together shifted us to the electronic world. The growing economies of the world have given way to lower prices for many electronic goods which has in turn increased global demand for these goods. Increasing production of new electronic goods put the old electronic products into store labeling them ‘e-waste’.
People are upgrading their computers, cell phones, televisions, audio players and printers more frequently than ever before. Presently cell phones and computers are causing the biggest problem because they are replaced most often. That is the number of discarded electrical and electronic waste is piling up to millions. Electronics waste now makes up five percent of total municipal solid waste worldwide which is almost equal to the waste of all plastic packaging material. Not only developed countries but the developing countries also have its share in the production of E-Waste.  According to the reports, Asia discards an estimated 12 million tons of E-Waste each year. While the electronic waste stream has increased dramatically in the last 10 years; efforts to regulate or recycle them are being developed at a much slower pace.

A recent report by United Nations predicts that by 2020 e-waste from old computers in South Africa and China will have jumped by 200–400 % and by 500 % in India compared to 2007 levels. It also states that by 2020 e-waste from discarded cell phones will be increased to 7 times than 2007 in China and 18 times in India. This report also mentions that in the United States more than 150 million mobiles and pagers were sold in 2008, up from 90 million five years before, and globally more than 1 billion mobile phones were sold in 2007, up from 896 million in 2006. The UN report estimates that countries like Senegal and Uganda can expect e-waste flows from personal computers alone to increase 4 to 8-fold by 2020.

Why it poses a threat?

Why it poses a threat?
Electrical and electronic equipments contain several hazardous materials which are injurious to human health and the environment if not managed to recycle properly. Most of the electronic parts contain toxic chemicals. When dead computers are placed in landfills, burned, or improperly recycled, toxic chemicals presented in the electronic parts are released into the air, water and soil. The most dangerous chemical in technologic devices is lead which is used in soldering of circuit boards. It causes problems to the human body, nervous system, kidneys, liver and child development. It can cause retardation and high blood pressure. Some naturally occurring substances are harmless in nature but their use in the manufacture of electronic equipment often results in compounds which are hazardous, for example chromium becomes chromium VI.  The following table presents the information about the toxic substances presented in e-waste.

A Table Representing the Various Toxic Substances Present in an E-waste

Fig. 2: A Table Representing the Various Toxic Substances Present in an E-waste


According to current trend e-waste travel large distances to developing countries, where rudimentary techniques or the backyard methods are implied to extract precious metals or recycle parts for further use. But this disposal is hazardous to health of the poorly protected workers and communities in the vicinity. E waste amounts to 40 million tons per annum, which is enough to fill a line of dump trucks stretching half way around the globe. This illustrates the need for a holistic view to be taken in analyzing the e waste situation for working out possible solutions to tackle the problem well.

Proposed Solution - Recycling

Proposed Solution – Recycling
Considering the threat seriously we need to have ways to recycle the e-waste generated to maximize resource recovery and minimize potential harm to humans and the environment. It needs a much more speculated method for disposal as it contains heavy metals, rare earth metals, precious metals and some hazardous metals as compared to the disposal of household waste. The discarded electronics contain materials which might be hazardous and unhealthy if disposed of improperly. This is the era when the technological advancements are accompanied by thoughts and ideas to initiate the campaign to protect and save the earth and the environment.  So we need to strategize the disposal of e-waste and lay emphasis on refurbishing it which will protect the environment along with the economic benefits.
E-waste management includes the three r’s of waste management - reduce, reuse and recycle. Maximize the reuse of electrical items to the safer limits when the radiations or ill effects are under control. The reuse will diminish the demand of newer products and has several other social and environmental benefits.  Recycle the discarded electronics to re-utilize the various elements used in manufacturing. Recycling the e-waste we can replenish about 15% of the earth minerals and metals we need and can be reused to satisfy the increasing demands of electronics. For example 80% of indium demand is for the LCD screens. Recycling the broken and unusable screens can save the earth’s mineral.
Today e-waste management and recycling is not only a noble cause but also a consolidating business. A whole market is available to make products of the recycled plastics and metals recovered from the electronics. So it can be rightly said that it’s just not an emergency to curb the problem of e-waste with a heavy hand but also an opportunity for business generating decent employment. Along with this it is going to reduce the green house gas emission, save many precious and rare earth metals. If dealt properly the e-challenge can be successfully converted to e-opportunity. To quote a few examples the audiovisual components, televisions, stereo-equipments, mobile phones and other handheld devices, and computers contain valuable elements and substances suitable for reclamation, including lead, copper and gold. Almost all electronic items contain lead and tin (as solder) and copper (as wire and printed circuit board tracks), though the usage of lead free solder is in now. Elements and compounds found in general in the electronics include epoxy resins, fiberglass, polyvinyl chlorides, thermosetting plastics, lead, tin, copper, silicon, beryllium, carbon, iron and aluminum, americium, antimony, arsenic, barium, bismuth, boron, cobalt, europium, gallium, germanium, gold, indium, lithium, manganese, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, selenium, silver, tantalum, terbium, thorium, titanium, vanadium, and yttrium. As we know many of these elements are precious but have potential danger and need to be dealt very safely.

Disposal & Recycling Process

Recycling of E-Waste takes place in three major steps which are depicted here.
1. Detoxication
To ensure safe disposal or recycle of E-Waste, detoxication process takes place for the electronic materials. Detoxication is the process of removing critical components from the electronic waste in order to avoid contamination with toxic substances during the downstream processes. Critical components include lead glass from CRT screens, CFC gases from refrigerators, light bulbs and batteries.
A Representational Image of the Process of Detoxification to Ensure Safe Recycle or Disposal
Fig. 3: A Representational Image of the Process of Detoxification to Ensure Safe Recycle or Disposal
2. Shredding
In the next step electronic materials are broken into pieces to obtain concentrates of recyclable materials in a dedicated fraction and also to further separate hazardous materials. The mechanical processing plants where shredding takes place includes shredders, crushing units, magnetic and eddy current and air-separators. The emitted gases are filtered and residues are treated to minimize environmental impact.

A Representational Image of the Shedding Process in Dispoal or Recycling of E-waste

Fig. 4: A Representational Image of the Shedding Process in Dispoal or Recycling of E-waste


3. Refining
The third step of e-waste recycling is refining of the shredded materials to obtain reusable components. Refining of resources in e-waste is possible and the technical solutions exist to get back raw with minimal environmental impact. Most of the components need to be refined or conditioned before they can be sold as secondary raw materials or to be disposed of in a final disposal site.

A Representational Image of Refining, the Third Step of E-Waste Recycling

Fig. 5: A Representational Image of Refining, the Third step of e-Waste Recycling


Disposal & Recycling Process II

There are some more techniques that are employed to destroy or recycle the E-waste, enlightened in the following section of the article.
It is a process to destroy the waste by burning. As there are toxic materials present in the e-waste there may be a risk of generating and dispersing contaminants and hazardous substances. A Representational Image of the Process of Incineration
Fig. 6: A Representational Image of the Process of Incineration
The gases released during the burning and the residue ash is often toxic especially when it is employed without prior treatment or sophisticated flue gas purification. Metals like copper, which is presented in printed circuit boards and cables abundantly, works as a catalyst for dioxin formation when flame retardants are incinerated. These brominated flame retardants can lead to the generation of extremely toxic polybrominated dioxins (PBDDs) and furans (PBDFs) when exposed to low temperature (600-800°C). PVC, which can be found in e-waste in considerable amount is highly corrosive when burnt and also forms the dioxins which are dangerous for both live creatures and atmosphere.
Open Burning
Generally e-waste is burnt in the open fire but since it is burnt at low temperatures, it releases relatively more pollutants in the atmosphere than incineration process. A Representational Image of Open Burning of E-Waste
Fig. 7: A Representational Image of Open Burning of e-waste
Inhalation of open burning emissions may cause serious health problems such as asthma attacks, coughing, chest pain, eye irritation, etc. If open fires burn with a lack of oxygen, it forms carbon monoxide, which poisons the blood when inhaled. In the burning of e-waste chronic emissions are released which may lead to diseases like emphysema and cancer. The PVC releases hydrogen chloride when it is burnt, forms hydrogen chloride acid reacting with water. It can lead to corrosion of lung tissues and other respiratory complications.
It is the most widely used method for waste disposal. If the landfills are leaked, e-waste as it contains heavy metals and toxic substances can contaminate ground and water resources. A Representational Image of Land Filling used for Waster Disposal
Fig. 8: A Representational Image of Land Filling used for Waster Disposal
Although landfills are sealed to prevent toxins from entering the ground but with the time they may have chance to be leaked and thus pose a much greater danger of releasing hazardous emissions. Besides leaking, vaporization is another concern in landfills. Significant impacts from land filling could be reduced by separating dangerous materials from e-waste and by land filling only those fractions for which no further recycling is possible. Also it should be ensured that the whole process respect environmentally sound technical standards.


i think recycling is better option for the e-waste and we can earn a lot of money from this also save our  environment

i also got a better option to overcome the e-waste to recycle the electronic waste in a secured manner and it free us from many problems facing from the e-waste still trying to change it


e-waste we can recycle but we need to invest huge cost so most of the people are use to destroy the wasted electronics. so we have to estimte the things.

Problem is - how to distroy e-waste from a dumped stock....