According to “Global futures foundation”, electronic waste is responsible for 70% of the overall toxicity found in landfills. US EPA reveals that more than 4.6 million tons of e-waste ended up in US landfills in 2000 and in Hong Kong it is estimated that 10-20 percent of discarded computers go to landfill and incinerators.
When e-waste is dumped in landfills it can contaminate soil and drinking water which is extremely hazardous for the human health. In addition to the valuable materials like aluminum and copper, electronic devices contain harmful elements like mercury and lead. The second option, Incineration is even a more harmful process. This is a process by which e waste is burned. Incineration releases heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium into the air and ashes. Mercury released into the atmosphere can accumulate the food chain, particularly the fish. To minimize the harmful effects of e-waste, the principle of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” should be applied.
The rapid increase in the usage of cell phones, computers and HD/smart TVs is a great threat to the future’s eco-system. Following are some of the most harmful elements found in these three most common e-devices.
Though cell phone does not contain as much electronic waste as larger electronic devices like TVs and computers, most of the e-waste is comprised of cellular wastage. Since the shelf life of mobile phone is just 18 month for an average consumer, the e-waste being generated continuously from cell phones and BTS infrastructure may prove itself a great danger to the upcoming generation. It is estimated that there are 500 million used cell phones ready for disposal. Cell phones contain two harmful components i.e lead and battery.
The coating of mobile phone is made up of lead. Therefore, if these 500 million mobile phones are dumped in a landfill they will be producing 312,000 pounds of lead which is harmful for human health if mixed in water or soil.
Cell phone batteries are the most dangerous element present in them. If not disposed properly, they may cause cancers since it contains Nickel and Cadmium. Cadmium is considered as a carcinogen which completely destroys human liver and lung.
TVs contain CRT cathode ray tube which includes a generous amount of lead in it. Lead destroys human immune system to a great extent. It is believed that almost 20% of the CRT is composed of lead. Along with lead CRT include many other harmful elements such as Cadmium, Berylium, mercury and brominated flame retardants.
CRT is also present in computers, hence they are as harmful for human health and environment as TVs are. In addition to this, many laptops have a small fluorescent lamp on the screen that contains mercury which is a death threat when inhaled or digested. Computer circuit boards also contain mercury, along with cadmium and lead. They may also contain mercury made batteries and switches.
According to Earth911.com the total amount of global annual e-waste is about to reach 40 million metric tons. Since e-waste is increasing with three times more in speed than that of the municipal waste, it is expected that this global amount for e-waste will increase quickly. It will be responsible for 70% of toxic materials in landfills where 40% will be the lead only.
Reuse & Recycle of e-waste:
The best way to tackle e-waste is to increase the life span of electronic devices by reusing them. However, it still has its harmful nature to affect human lives. Every year, millions of e-devices are exported to developing and under developed countries. If at one place, export of e-devices is responsible for increasing the lifespan, it is also creating troubles in the proper disposal of e-waste. Often, these countries have no proper systems or dump facilities for these hazardous waste products.
Export of e-devices:
Export of e-devices from developed countries may be a boon for the developing ones if it is done by following the Export laws properly. Unfortunately, developing countries only get scrap on the name of electronic devices per year in export. “Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found as much as 47 percent of waste destined for export, including e-waste, was illegal. In the UK alone, at least 23,000 metric tons of undeclared or 'grey' market electronic waste was illegally shipped in 2003 to the Far East, India, Pakistan, Africa and China. In the US, it is estimated that 50-80 percent of the waste collected for recycling is being exported in this way.” Says a report on Greenpeace International forums.
Those e-devices which can neither be reused nor refurbished should go through a safe and well-protected recycling process. However, here too only developed countries possess the safest methods of recycling. Developed countries recycle e-products in purpose-built plants under controlled conditions, whereas in developing and under developed countries recycling is done by workers in scrap yards, often by young children. The hazardous elements can harm workers, neighboring countries and environment.
E-Waste in Pakistan:
According to the research of Greenpeace, thousands of tons of e-waste including discarded PCs, mobile phones and TVs are dumped in Asia and Africa every year. Some of the waste is exported to Pakistan. It is reported that in Karachi workers including teenage children dismantle the electronic scrap to collect valuables from them for selling. No special care is taken while dumping-in the e-waste. Large piles of garbage are set to fire at night in the middle of residential areas to collect the remaining metals after the burning process. Sometimes this fire goes wild and destroys nearby shops and houses.
Abu Bakar and Asad ali who are just 12 and 14 years old respectively, work in a scrap yard. According to them they cannot get any other job because they are poor and uneducated. Zaboor khan, who is 14 years old, also works in a scrap yard. His income has bought his family a fridge, washing machine, a TV and a CD- player. Also, he affords the expenses of education on his younger siblings only by the blessings of scrap yard. It is saddening, that in Pakistan there are no better options available for these young innocent teenagers to earn their livelihood. Serious diseases which are a threat to their health may cause even more severe issues once they grow up.
Greener Pakistan Initiatives:
However, certain initiatives have been adopted. Nokia is the first company to realize its duty towards “Greener Pakistan”. Nokia recently launched a campaign in collaboration with Ufone, Unilever, Radio FM 91, ARY Music, Orient Advertising and United Media to improve the environmental awareness in Pakistan. The purpose of the campaign is to provide an easy solution for the recycling of old and broken mobile phones, batteries, chargers and all other accessories of all available brands. The process is simple. One only needs to pay a visit to any one of the 33 Nokia Care Centers or Ufone Sales and Service Centers across the country. On dropping a mobile phone for recycling, a person will have a chance to win a gift hamper from uni-lever and a brand new Nokia N8 device.
Talking about Nokia’s contribution to environment in Pakistan, Adeel Hashmi, Communications Manager, Nokia Pakistan & Afghanistan, said, “Nokia has a comprehensive sustainability and environmental strategy and recycling is one of the key aspects covered. We understand that leadership means responsibility, that’s why at Nokia we consider the environment in everything we do and even go beyond our own operations and products: we want to give that chance to our consumers as well because we understand that a power of a billion people can do a lot of good to our environment. If the 4.6 billion people using mobile phones recycled just one unused phone at the end of its life, together we would save nearly 370,000 tons of raw materials and reduce greenhouse gases to the same effect as taking 6 million cars off the road.”
Moreover, Telenor Norway has also taken initiatives for the sensible recycling of old mobile phones and BTS sites in their homeland. The recently launched campaign is a door-to-door campaign in which old mobile phones will be collected for recycling. Telenor aims to collect some 200,000 mobile phones in 2011. The campaign will end in 2012. Telenor has also made its way for the nomination of “Green 15”awards for 2011.
Mobile devices, accessories and its infrastructure contain raw material which if recycled in a highly-responsible-standard process, can be reused in many ways to make new things, such as musical instruments or even dental fillings.
As global warming is increasing, all the authorities on the global level should join hands and highly intellectual brains who could figure out ways for sensible disposal and recycle of e-waste. These joint efforts, as a result will not only reduce harmful effects of the heavy metals present in e-waste but will also serve as a move towards a “Greener world”!
This article was published in MORE IT/Telecom Magazine for the month of June, 2011