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E-Waste surge is both boon and bane for the global economy

By Krishna Prasad|12th Sep 2020
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Today, in one way or the other, we all incorporate technology in our daily lives. It plays a dominant role in shaping our tomorrow. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is constricted to their homes, glued to their digital gadgets, which proved the never-ending quench for electronic products. 

 

Globally, everyone is now dependent on laptops, smartphones, television sets, and other digital gadgets to combat boredom and prolonged periods of self-quarantining. With that in mind, the ever increasing demand and users of electronic gadgets, and the piling of electronic waste and its toxic chemicals would soon become a huge matter of concern in the technology-advancement world.

 

Even a lot of technology-based companies, especially those in consumer-based product making, frequently come up with an updated version of it in their next launch. And it would offer intermittent assistance for former versions of the same brand. This unquestionably draws the consumer to go for the next best, leaving the older version behind. By this, it is explicit that billions of electronic wastes go into scrap every year.

 

According to the PACE reports (Platform for accelerating the circular economy), 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated globally every year, of which only 20 percent of it gets converted into reusable form. The remaining 80 percent will either be dumped into the sea or in open land areas and incinerated. 


Another survey report estimated that, of the 3.1 million tons of e-waste generated annually, which is in the form of major household appliances, 2.1 million tons were buried in a landfill. 

 

We all know the kind of impact e-waste has on health and environment. As the discarded electronic devices encompasses various forms of heavy metals, toxic materials, and other useful raw materials like gold, platinum, silver, iron, palladium, aluminum, copper, ruthenium and a few secondary raw materials that can be extracted, recycled, and used as a primary product. 

 

If e-waste is looked at in another way, we are relinquishing the opportunity cost of worth more than the US $57 billion, which is more whacking than the GDP of umpteen countries, says the Global E-waste Monitor report 2020. 

 

It’s every human’s sole responsibility to keep environs hygienic and immaculate because this isn’t a one-man show at all. Experts also envisage that this indispensable form of resource would create economic activities, generate jobs and income to the people, improve the better flow of trade activities, and maintain ecological balance in the economy.

 

In developing countries, recycling e waste material is one of the reliable sources to earn income. Yet, there are a few electronic products like smartphones, and tablets used to get ignited at the recycling centers or commuting vans while recycling them. The reason behind this happening is due to the inflammable nature of lithium-ion batteries that are infused in every smartphone or any other electronic equipment that we are using today. 

 

Just to remind you of the explosive lithium-ion batteries that happened with Samsung Note 7. The device used to catch fire and in certain cases, it used to blow up suddenly while using on-the-go. After such hassles heard across the world, the Samsung company has completely banned manufacturing Note 7 and compensated all its customers.

 

Lack of governing laws to monitor e-waste

Be it any e-device, the recycling process is not being seriously taken by the government of many nation countries. Some reports stated that only 20 percent of the e-waste is formally recycled with safe processing until it’s turned into a furnished product and ready to use again. Certain countries, say, like the U.S still don’t have a federal law or legislation that could structure the process of what to do with e-waste.

 

As in the U.S with no law passed yet to combat the e-waste issue, everything is left over to the states to deal with this complexity. With that, California is one of the other states ratified the Electronics Waste Recycling Act 2003, where the main motive is to aid people on how to manage redundant e-waste and dwindle the acts of illegal discarding. 

 

Yet, the biggest e-waste producers are still in the state of confusion and dilemma about signing the Basel Convention Amendment. This international treaty is specifically drafted in the year 1989 to impede the shipping of hazardous e-waste from developed to developing countries without the consent of the respective country’s government. 

 

A total of 187 countries were the part of this amendment, of which 99 have ratified with this deal. The major league countries, namely, the United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Canada have not yet ratified. The point of concern one needs to worry about is the “illegal transition of e-waste” to developing countries without their consent or notice in a statement. 

 

On 21st Jan 2020, Malaysia has directed 4120 tonnes of plastic waste back to 13 affluent nation countries, of which 43 containers were of France, 42 from the UK, 17 from the US, and 11 from Canada. 


These kinds of e-waste shipments are one way to veil the illicit goods and land their business in other countries without permissions. Lamentably, the same discarded electronics  is either seen as landfills or picked up by some local dealers, which ends up suppressing the hygiene of the sound environment.


To bring a transformation in the recycling process of e-waste, there should be proper dismembering of useful materials from the e-waste product, which is a revenue generator for the economy. Or, one can use the working parts while making a new device or product. 


By this, the opportunity cost to afford sub-parts would lessen to an extent. Also, the overall cost of the product plummets to a better market price. 

 

Doing all of these in one go is a cumbersome process and expensive to take up. This is why a lot of developed countries try to exploit export rules and send their e-waste across other developing countries through the mode of sea transport to escalate their foreign reserves. 

 

As you know, the dumped electronic items contain toxic metal substances like mercury, lead, PVC, and other chemical matter that’s perilous when left in the open air for a longer period. Sadly, this is indirectly affecting the health conditions of the people living in and near the vicinity of e-waste dumping yards.

 

Besides, hazardous e-waste has not recycled the way it exactly needs to be done. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports, India generates 800000 million tonnes of e-waste every year. And by 2025, it’s expected to generate 1,800,000 MT, which is quite a substantial amount. 

 

Of the whole global e-waste, 95 percent is recycled in urban slums, where people are not trained in the process. These same workers incorporate some unhealthy process to segregate useful materials from the waste, which indirectly impacts adversely on the health. 

 

Also, most of the e-waste is picked up by informal sector people, men, women, and small kids, where they work on such activities such as cleansing those materials near the waterways. This not only pollutes the sea area but also lead to dangerous health consequences, of which some might also be life-threatening.

 

One main reason for all that’s happening is due to lack of surveillance checks on such activities either from the government or any such legislative or federal body to address these issues. The lack-of-responsibility behavior patterns on the part of the electronic industry led to the advent of unsystematic sectors to work on it, thereby disrupting the ecosystem and damaging the healthy lives of the people living around such zones.

 

What next?

So, the question that should be asked to self and the society at large, including the sectors involved in this – who’s to be blamed? what’s next? How to deal with this e-waste bomb that’s on us? – The answer is “We all need to be responsible and answerable for this”. As Ernest Hemingway once quoted “The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for”, which is true. 

 

Truth be told, top giant electronic companies, like Apple, Samsung are playing their major role in the recycling process of e-waste. Apple’s project daisy has become an enormous hit, where the good news is that any customer can trade their devices or give it for recycling purposes. 

 

Not to mention, Google has also been upfront when it comes to sound & health environment. As per  the Google blog reports, from the beginning of 2020, 100 percent of its Made by Google products contain recycled materials in any of the newly purchased Google products. And their main aim is to recycle the maximum quantity of e-waste into used form. 

 

Samsung, on the other hand, has been running exemplary recovery programs globally to refurbish more e-waste products. And by 2030, Samsung has decided to collect 15 billion pounds of electronics all over the world by 2030 against 6.2 billion pounds collected in 2017.

 

Action to be taken to put it to bed

Simply recycling doesn’t solve the whole problem of e-waste, yet creating awareness through educational videos and certain online campaigns would help establish clarity of what e-waste does to health when exposed to an open environment. 

 

In case, if you are a product manufacturer or seller, try discount and incentive strategies. Because, as every business is customer-centric, focusing only on the environment isn’t sufficient to make customers go with the recycling process.

 

Moreover, tech companies, especially those who are in the making, can go with trial programs, where the products can be revived back to its original form. By doing so, there would be employment generation in a better way and also, there won’t be any deleterious damages caused to the workers’ health. 

 

Furthermore, consumer-tech manufacturing companies should also set up a governing body to look after e-waste activities and keep a check on it regularly. This would make sure that the transition of e-waste properly takes place, and recycled at the factory under observation. Not the least, everything needs to be well recorded, i.e. the tons of e-waste refurbished and recycled into a complete product again.

 

Finally, the government, who’s the legal and legitimate body, should frame certain federal laws that could curtail discarding e-waste in the open. Or hefty fines should be imposed on the ones who get caught in the act of polluting the environment by depositing chemicals in the open land.