For a better understanding of its global effects, e-waste has been categorized into three main categories, i.e., Large Household Appliances, IT and Telecom and Consumer Equipment. Refrigerator and washing machine represent large household appliances; PC, monitor and laptop represent IT and Telecom, while TV represents Consumer Equipment.
By using the categorization, each of these e-waste items has been classified with respect to 26 common components found in them. These components form the ‘building blocks’ of each item and therefore they are readily ‘identifiable’ and ‘removable.’ These components are metal, motor/ compressor, cooling, plastic, insulation, glass, LCD, rubber, wiring/electrical, concrete, transformer, magnetron, textile, circuit board, fluorescent lamp, incandescent lamp, heating element, thermostat, brominated flamed retardant (BFR)-containing plastic, batteries, CFC/HCFC/HFC/HC, external electric cables, refractory ceramic fibers, radioactive substances and electrolyte capacitors (over L/D 25 mm).
The Problems It Causes
The composition of e-waste is very diverse and differs in products across different categories. In general, electronic waste can contain more than 1000 different substances, which fall under ‘hazardous’ and ‘non-hazardous’ categories. Broadly, it consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete and ceramics, rubber and other items. Iron and steel constitutes about 50% of e-waste, followed by plastics (21%), non-ferrous metals (13%) and other constituents. Non-ferrous metals consist of metals like copper, aluminium and precious metals, e.g. silver, gold, platinum, palladium, etc. The presence of elements like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium and hexavalent chromium and flame retardants beyond threshold quantities in e-waste classifies them as hazardous waste.
With the multitude of components used to make most electronic devices and some containing toxic substances, its no wonder that they would have an adverse impact on human health and the environment if not handled properly. Often, these hazards arise due to the improper recycling and disposal processes used. It can have serious repercussions for those in proximity to places where e-waste is recycled or burnt. A few items may not cause suck ill effects, however most do and have caused serious illnesses and poisoning to the environment. So, for a computer containing highly toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, BFR, polyvinyl chloride and phosphor compounds it is HIGHLY recommended that it is handled carefully by individuals trained in its care.
Network Agencies Working on the Problem
One good point, is that societies are not alone in their fight to handle the problems of e-waste. Over the past few decades, agencies have been developing that share visions of international environmental justice. Their existence is to assist with policy creating, activism, and spreading overall awareness of the issues.
The Basel Action Network (BAN) is a U.N. sanctioned, global network of development activists. This organization strives to champion global environmental health and justice by ending toxic trade, catalyzing a toxics-free future, and campaigning for everyone’s right to a clean environment. The network seeks to prevent all forms of ‘toxic trade’ – in toxic wastes, toxic products and toxic technologies. It works to prevent the globalization of the toxic chemical crisis. BAN is administered by the Secretariat services of the Asia-Pacific Environmental Exchange (APEX) based in Seattle, Washington, USA. APEX is an activity of the Tides Centre. Additionally, organizations such as the International Solid Waste Association, Solid Waste Association of North America, and Environmental Protection Agency seek to push environmental protection acts and fight for stronger policies to end global illegal dumping.
How to Help