The purpose of this essay is to critically analyze the concept of e-waste and offer a technological solution for the same. The essay will be divided into two parts, effects and solutions, with recommendations made on what can be done to further enhance the manufacturing industry’s ability to not only reduce waste but also use technology to safely eliminate their electronic waste.
One of the unforeseeable challenges that technological advancement has enhanced is e-waste. Jayaraman et al. (2019, p. 689) explain that these are electrical and electric gadgets that have been used and dumped due to one reason or another. One of the main reasons for the accumulation of electronic leftovers is the nature of technology itself. When newer devices are designed and released into the market, the older ones are typically discarded. The growing number of e-waste, alongside the fact that they contain toxic matter for both humans and plants makes the problem a significant concern for the global community. The buildup of e-waste is an issue due to the fact that there have been no standard policies or solutions to get rid of the unwanted pieces. More people are relying on technological gadgets each day so it can be argued that this type of waste will only get worse if a solution for proper disposal is not realized.
E-waste affects normal life in various ways. First, many individuals and organizations are not disposing of the leftover gadgets properly such that it has enhanced population. The world is currently keen on environmental preservation so the fact that these wastes are adding to the problem is unacceptable. Additionally, it affects life in a way that some of the gadgets have toxic chemical matter such as lead and beryllium that are considered hazardous. These matters are flammable and destroy surfaces such as soil and wood. Whereas much of these chemicals are inside the gadgets, the poor disposal of the same allows them to ooze out into the nearby surroundings.
Effects of E-waste
There is a direct relationship between air pollution and disposal of electric wastage. Gangwar et al. (2019, p. 191) explain that over the years, companies have opted to burn their e-waste in an attempt to dispose them. This has been one of the most recommended ways of getting rid of different types of wastes across various industries. Gangwar et al. (2019, p. 192) add that the action of burning contributes to poor air quality as it introduces the previously mentioned toxic wastes into the atmosphere. Khan et al. (2020, p. 22) also add that there is significant plastic used in electronic gadgets that are also burned in the process, further lowering air quality. Indeed, the high levels of metals in the air cannot only be attributed to e-wastes. However, the disposal of the same has contributed significantly to air pollution, more so in the developed nations.
The aquatic environment has also been significantly affected by e-wastage disposal. It is important to note that logistics plays a critical role in managing of electronic leftovers. First, developed countries send gadgets they believe are no longer of value to developing countries, making this one way of disposing their e-waste. On the same note, the same waste is use recycled in these third world countries, and when done, a significant number end up in the oceans and seas. Baldé et al. (2017, p. 6) explain that only 41 countries in the world track the disposal of their e-waste diligently. The developing countries are the worst hit as much of their waste is thrown in the water. In turn, the chemical matters that are used to make these gadgets also seep into the aquatic environment, negatively affecting marine life.
Soil and Plant
As mentioned, the e-wastes contain elements such as beryllium and lead which are highly toxic to both soil and plants. Ilankoon et al. (2019, p. 258) explain that lead can inhibit germination, destroy roots and affect seedling development of all plants and vegetation. In addition to this, the chemical can stay in soil for an average of 2000 years, which renders the affected land barren for agricultural purposes. Interestingly, even e-wastage recycling measures have contributed significantly to soil and plant destruction. It is common knowledge that one way of preserving the environment is through recycling. However, this has proven to be an ineffective solution when it comes to the proper disposal of electronic waste.
All the mentioned effects of electronic waste and its disposal affect human health in one way or another. First, the threat on food security is a direct risk to health. As stated previously, the poor disposal of e-wastes endangers both marine and plant life, which are basically the food source for both human beings and animals. Secondly, the poor air quality affects all forms of life, which are sustained by oxygen. Further, the destruction of the ozone layer, which has largely contributed to global warming and climate change can be linked, to some extent, to e-wastes. The ultraviolet rays then affect human skin and lead to cancers that are caused by too much exposure. Arguably, all these issues can be prevented through proper disposal of these electronic and electronic wastes. Apart from the already tried solutions, it is vital that the world look into the use of technology itself to properly dispose the leftovers.
Khan et al. (2020, p. 22) explain that there are numerous ways technology can be used to dispose waste. The scholars analyze the removal of the cathode-ray tube glass, which is found in various electronics. The same premise will be suggested as a possible solution for the disposal of all types of electric waste. It is arguable that all the materials that are used to manufacture electronics can be recycled to create new devices. Khan et al. (2020, p. 7) refer to the technological process of recycling old parts to create new devices as the closed loop recycling process. It is critical to note that the closed loop recycling method has not been used at a full scale level in any sector. The solution is further emphasized through the use of diamond-cut technology to separate the different parts of the devices in an environment friendly manner (Khan et al., 2020, p. 9).
The suggested solution can be tested for validity in various ways. First, several types of devices have to be identified and taken apart to record the different parts that were used to build the gadgets. A validity test should then be done on each individual part. It is expected that there are some parts that will be easily useable – such as the cathode-tube ray, while there are others that might be difficult to recycle. To ensure validity of the solution, it is, therefore, critical to also offer an option of disposal of possible parts that cannot be reused. If the parts can be reused in different gadgets or equipment, then they can be technologically validated as well.
The suggestion given can be highly effective. Garlapati (2016, p. 875) explains that whereas technological devices and advances get better with time, the raw material that makes up the hardware is usually the same. The shape and design of the hardware changes often but the elements used to make the products remain the same. Importantly, it is expected that the elements suggested for reuse will have some wear and tear over the years. In addition, usage might involve breakages of these parts as well. In anticipation, it is critical to have technological ways to remake the damaged or worn out elements before they are used to make new devices.
One advantage of the suggested solution is that it gives value to electronic waste. This is a benefit as it enhances the concept of the bottom line for both the businesses/individuals that make the waste and the companies that manufacture these devices. Secondly, the technological separation of the different parts that make up the devices, the diamond laser approach, is environmentally friendly unlike what is currently used. Indeed, different countries use laser technique and even gravitational methods to dispose of these parts and both have had significant impact on the environment. Additionally, the use of diamonds ensures environmental conservation as they decay with time.
A vital disadvantage of the solution given is the fact that it is expensive. As the name suggests, the diamond cut method uses diamonds, which are one of the most valuable elements in the world. Small businesses might not be able to afford the solution. A simple solution to this limitation is the “return-to-sender” application where devices that are no longer in use should be sent back to their manufacturers for disposal. The manufacturers are in a better position to use the suggested approach as it directly affects their production of new devices.
It is recommended that countries that host device manufacturers put down policies that allow the former to acquire back worn out or damaged devices. Currently, individual users are expected to dispose of their e-waste in their different ways. It is arguable that this creates a lack of uniformity that has enhanced the negative effects electronic waste has had on the environment. The policies will also protect the end-user as they will not be forced to come up with expensive ways of disposing their waste, leading to less land and water pollution.
Secondly, it is recommended that manufacturers offer an incentive to people who send back their e-waste. This recommendation might prove difficult for companies that donate their unwanted devices to developing countries and other non-governmental organizations. To ensure that this challenge is averted, it is critical that any donations of functional e-waste should also include the mandatory option of sending the devices back to the respective manufacturers to ensure proper disposal. Whereas the incentive will have a cost implication to the company, it will be much less than what manufacturers are using right now to dispose of their e-waste wrongfully. The positive impact on the environment will also make the solution worth the cost.
Baldé, C. P., Forti, V., Gray, V., Kuehr, R., & Stegmann, P. (2017). The global e-waste monitor 2017: Quantities, flows, and resources. Geneva.
Gangwar, C., Choudhari, R., Chauhan, A., Kumar, A., Singh, A., & Tripathi, A. (2019). Assessment of air pollution caused by illegal e-waste burning to evaluate the human health risk. Environment International, 125, 191-199.
Garlapati, K. V. (2016). E-waste in India and developed countries: Management, recycling, business and biotechnological initiatives. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 54, 874-881.
Ilankoon, M.S.K., Ghorbani, Y., Chong, N. M., Herath, G., Moyo, T., & Petersen, J. (2018). E-waste in the international context – A review of trade flows, regulations, hazards, waste management strategies and technologies for value recovery. Waste Management, 82, 258-270.
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Khan, A., Inamuddin, & Asiri, M. A. (Eds.). (2020). E-waste recycling and management present scenarios and environmental issues. Springer.