Study Material | Test Series
Drishti IAS
call1800-121-6260 / 011-47532596
Drishti The Vision Foundation
(A unit of VDK Eduventures Pvt. Ltd.)
E- Waste: A growing challenge in front of Humanity
Apr 12, 2015

"E-waste" is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life. "E-wastes are considered dangerous, as certain components of some electronic products contain materials that are hazardous, depending on their condition and density. The hazardous content of these materials pose a threat to human health and environment. Discarded computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, fax machines, electric lamps, cell phones, audio equipment and batteries if improperly disposed can leach lead and other substances into soil and groundwater. Many of these products can be reused, refurbished, or recycled in an environmentally sound manner so that they are less harmful to the ecosystem. This paper highlights the hazards of e-wastes, the need for its appropriate management and options that can be implemented.

Like hazardous waste, the problem of e-waste has become an immediate and long term concern as its unregulated accumulation and recycling can lead to major environmental problems endangering human health. The information technology has revolutionized the way we live, work and communicate bringing countless benefits and wealth to all its users. The creation of innovative and new technologies and the globalization of the economy have made a whole range of products  available and affordable to the people changing their lifestyles significantly. New electronic products have become an integral part of our daily lives providing us with more comfort, security, easy and faster acquisition and exchange of information. But on the other hand, it has also led to unrestrained


resource consumption and an alarming waste generation. Both developed countries and developing countries like India face the problem of e-waste management. The rapid growth of technology, up gradation of technical innovations and a high rate of obsolescence in the electronics industry have led to one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world which consist of end of life electrical and electronic equipment products. It comprises a whole range of electrical and electronic items such as refrigerators, washing machines, computers and printers, televisions, mobiles, i-pods, etc., many of which contain toxic materials.


Under the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2003 E-waste are defined as “Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment including all components, sub assemblies and their fractions except batteries falling under these rules.

E-Waste Composition :

Electronic appliances are composed of hundreds of different materials that can be both toxic but also of high value. 

  • Bulk materials such as iron, aluminium, plastics and glass account for over 80 weight Percentage

  • Valuable and toxic materials are found in smaller quantities but are still of high importance. 

  • The material composition of different appliances is often similar, but the percentage of different components can vary a lot. 

  • The presence of elements like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, hexavalent chromium, and flame retardants beyond threshold quantities make e-waste hazardous in nature.

  • Pollutants or toxins in e-waste are typically concentrated in circuit boards, batteries, plastics, and LCDs (liquid crystal displays).

  • Pollutants and their occurrence in waste electrical and electronic equipment

  •  Pollutant

     Occurrence

     Arsenic

     Semiconductors, diodes, microwaves,LEDs (Light-emitting diodes), solar cells

     Barium

     Electron tubes, filler for plastic and rubber, lubricant additives

     Brominated flame- proofing agent

     Casing, circuit boards (plastic), cables and PVC cables

     Cadmium

     Batteries, pigments, solder, alloys, circuit boards, computer batteries, monitor cathode ray tubes (CRTs)

    Chrome

    Dyes/pigments, switches, solar

    Cobalt

    Insulators

    Copper

    Conducted in cables, copper ribbons,coils, circuitry, pigments

    Lead

     Lead rechargeable batteries, solar,transistors, lithium batteries, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) stabilizers, lasers,LEDs, thermoelectric elements, circuit boards

     Lithium

     Mobile telephones, photographic equipment, video equipment (batteries)

     Mercury

     Components in copper machines and steam irons; batteries in clocks and pocket calculators, switches, LCDs

     Nickel

     Alloys, batteries, relays, semiconductors,pigments

     Selenium

    Photoelectric cells, pigments,photocopiers, fax machines 

     Silver

     Capacitors, switches (contacts),batteries, resistors

     Zinc

     Steel, brass, alloys, disposable and rechargeable batteries, luminous substances

E-waste at Global level :

  • 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide each year

  • China currently leads the world in production of electrical and electronic equipment. In 2012, China produced about 12.2 million tons (11.1 million metric tons), followed by the U.S. with about 11 million tons (10 million metric tons).

  • A major reason for the rapid generation of e-waste and the resulting growth of the recycling market can be found in the high rate of obsolescence in the electronics market. Most electronic goods, especially in the West, have very short lifespan. Such goods are routinely replaced at least every two years, and then either simply discarded or exported to developing countries where there is still a demand for second-hand merchandise

  • According to the UN report, e-waste – which extends from old fridges to toys and even motorised toothbrushes – is now the world's fastest growing waste stream. 

  • Only around 13% of the e-waste generated each year is recycled. 

  • A more danger trend being at the world level waste is being trashed to developing world. Some of it legally but most find its route illegally

    Source: Basel Action network

E-Waste and India :

The country's IT prowess attracts global business, but it also generates huge amounts of electronic waste often scavenged by children in dangerous conditions

  • According to a research paper estimate in just over a decade, India will have on its hands a whopping 130 million obsolete desktop computers and 900 million laptops to dispose of. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimated India’s e-waste at 1.47 lakh tonnes or 0.573 MT per day

  • The Indian city of Bangalore produces some 20,000 tonnes of e-waste per year, according to a report by Assocham, the Association of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India. This figure is rising at a rate of 20% per year and the report's authors forecast the amount of computer waste across the country could increase by nearly 500% by 2020.

  • There are 10 States that contribute to 70 per cent of the total e-waste generated in the country, while 65 cities generate more than 60 per cent of the total e-waste in India. Among the 10 largest e-waste generating States, Maharashtra ranks first followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. Among the top ten cities generating e-waste, Mumbai ranks first followed by Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur.

  • Recycling gap: No more than 16 formal e-waste recycling companies exist, with a total installed recycling capacity of just 66,000 metric tonnes, which takes care of less than 10 per cent of the total e-waste produced in the country, says the paper.

  • Lack of organised sector to deal e waste: Up to 90% of this waste is still handled through the informal sector – by firms who employ low-paid workers to process and incinerate e-waste. The people who do this are unaware of safety measures needed for the work. They release lead, mercury and other toxins into the air and use acids to extract precious metals from hardware. 

  • Source: The main sources of electronic waste in India are the government, public and private (industrial) sectors, which account for almost 70 per cent of total waste generation. The contribution of individual households is relatively small at about 15 per cent; the rest being contributed by manufacturers. The State of Maharashtra tops the list generating 20,270 tonnes of e-waste annually. The other States leading in the generation of e-waste are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

  • E-waste Import: India is one of the largest waste importing countries in the world. All types of wastes are imported into the country, in the form of cheap raw materials including hazardous and toxic wastes. In 2009, India generated 5.9 million tonnes of hazardous waste domestically and imported 6.4 million tonnes.

Main Issue of E-waste :

  • High volumes – High volumes are generated due to the rapid obsolescence of gadgets combined with the high demand for new technology 

  • Toxic design – E-waste is classified as hazardous waste having adverse health and environmental implications. Approximately 40  per cent of the heavy metals found in landfills comes from electronic waste

  • Poor design and complexity – E-waste imposes many challenges on the recycling industry as it contains many different materials that are mixed, bolted, screwed, snapped, glued or soldered together. Toxic materials are attached to non-toxic materials, which makes separation of materials for reclamation difficult. Hence, responsible recycling requires intensive labour and/or sophisticated and costly technologies that safely separate materials.

  • Labour issues  –  These include occupational exposures, informal sector domination causing health and environmental problems, lack of labour standards and rights.

  • Financial incentives  –  In general, there is not enough value in most e-waste to cover the costs of managing it in a responsible way. 

  • Lack of regulation  –  According to Basal Action Network (BAN) Many nations either lack adequate regulations applying to this relatively new waste stream, or lack effective enforcement of new e-waste regulations

E-waste and Environmental and Health concern

E-wastes are broken down in not just for recycling but for the recoverable materials such as plastic, iron, aluminium, copper and gold. However, since e-waste also contains significant concentration of substances that are hazardous to human health and the environment, even a small amount of e-waste entering the residual waste will introduce relatively high amount of heavy metals and halogenated substances. E-waste typically contains complex combinations of materials and components down to microscopic levels. The wastes are broken down in not just for recycling but for the recoverable materials such as plastic, iron, aluminium, copper and gold. However, since e-waste also contains significant concentration of substances that are hazardous to human health and the environment, even a small amount of e-waste entering the residual waste will introduce relatively high amount of heavy metals and halogenated substances.

 Effects of E-Waste constituent on health (Source: IISC)

 Source of e-wastes

Constituent 

 Health effects

 Solder in printed circuit boards, glass panels and gaskets in computer monitors

 Lead (PB

  • Damage to central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems and kidney damage.

  • Affects brain development of children.

 Chip resistors and semiconductors

 Cadmium (CD)

  • Toxic irreversible effects on human health.

  • Accumulates in kidney and liver.

  • Causes neural damage.

  • Teratogenic.

 Relays and switches, printed circuit boards

 Mercury (Hg)

  • Chronic damage to the brain.

  • Respiratory and skin disorders due to bioaccumulation in fishes.

 Corrosion protection of untreated and galvanized steel plates, decorator or hardner for steel housings

 Hexavalent chromium (Cr) VI

  • Asthmatic bronchitis.

  • DNA damage.

 Cabling and computer housing

 Plastics including PVC

 Burning produces dioxin. It causes

  • Reproductive and developmental problems;

  • Immune system damage;

  • Interfere with regulatory hormones

 Plastic housing of electronic equipments and circuit boards.

 Brominated flame retardants (BFR)

 Disrupts endocrine system functions

 Front panel of CRTs

 Barium (Ba)

 Short term exposure causes:

  • Muscle weakness;

  • Damage to heart, liver and spleen.

 Motherboard

 Beryllium (Be)

  • Carcinogenic (lung cancer)

  • Inhalation of fumes and dust. Causes chronic beryllium disease or beryllicosis.

  • Skin diseases such as warts.

 Unless suitable safety measures are taken, these toxic substances can critically affect the health of employees and others in the vicinity – who manually sort and treat the waste – by entering their body.

  • through respiratory tracts,

  • through the skin, or

  • through the mucous membrane of the mouth and the digestive tract


Helpline Number : 87501 87501
To Subscribe Newsletter and Get Updates.