Electronic waste

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Electronic waste, otherwise known as e-waste or WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) is a term that encompasses all waste with electronic components. This definition can be refined as to include household appliances, computers and computer peripherals, monitors, TVs, audio and video equipment, telephony equipment, lighting, and battery operated toys.

Contents

[edit] Problem

Electronic waste is especially concerning for three reasons.

  1. It contains a number of toxic chemicals and heavy metals.
  2. The amount of electronic waste being produced around the world is rapidly accelerating. In the EU15W, during the period of 2000-2020, the amount of electronic waste produced is projected to increase at 5% per year at best and 10% per year at worst[1]. In the U.S.A., between 1998 and 2007, the rate of electronic waste production growth was approximately 8% per year[2].
  3. A large portion of this waste is not disposed of properly. For example, the United States Environmental Protection Agency found that 82% of the TVs, cell phones and computer products disposed of in 2007 were landfilled[3].

Summed up in one sentence, electronic waste is a growing source of hazardous waste that that has not been addressed in many[4] First worldW countries.

[edit] Definition

Every country that has legislation concerning electronic waste has their own definition, but European Directive 2002/96/EC[5] sums it up nicely.

  1. Large household appliances (eg. ovens and refrigerators)
  2. Small household appliances (eg. blenders)
  3. IT and telecommunications equipment (eg. computers)
  4. Consumer equipment (eg. digital audio players and TVs)
  5. Lighting equipment (eg. light bulbs and fixtures)
  6. Electrical and electronic tools (with the exception of large-scale stationary industrial tools)
  7. Toys, leisure and sports equipment
  8. Medical devices (with the exception of all implanted and infected products)
  9. Monitoring and control instruments
  10. Automatic dispensers (eg. vending machines)

The above categories include most items that include electronics, with the exception of biohazardous, military, and very large waste. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations apply to electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) with a voltage of up to 1000 volts for alternating current or up to 1500 volts for direct current. Companies to comply with the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) Regulations if manufacture, produce or sell this type of equipment.

[edit] Components

Electronic waste contains a number of hazardous materials, that will leach out or be released if disposed of improperly. Below is a list of constituent parts of electronic waste.

[edit] Large quantities

  • Plastics, in casings, fans and electrical insulation
  • Epoxy resin hardened fiberglass, in printed circuit boards
  • Lead is present in numerous types of items, especially in solder and CRT monitors
  • Zinc, used to inhibit corrosion and in batteries
  • Tin, present in solder
  • Copper, in wiring and printed circuit boards
  • Aluminum, in hard drives, heat sinks, and casings
  • Steel, in cases and for structural reinforcement

[edit] Small quantities

  • Cadmium, in batteries and pigments[6]
  • Beryllium, half of the world’s yearly production is used in computer and communication equipment[7]
  • Mercury, in batteries and fluorescent lightbulbs
  • Thallium, used in optics[8] and in photoresistors[9]
  • Antimony, in lead-free solder, as a flame retardant[10], and in batteries[11]
  • Nickel, used in magnets, as an alloying metal in steel, and in batteries
  • Chromium, as an alloying metal in steel, in the production of pigments and magnetic tape
  • Additives such as brominated flame retardantsW, plasticizersW
  • Carbon and ceramics, in resistors
  • Precious metals, such as silver, gold and palladium in extremely low concentrations [12].

Among the substances, content varies wildly by electronic waste type. An account of this was written by Morf, L. et al.[13].

[edit] Production

The electronics industry is an industry where technological improvements are being made rapidly, leading to the obsolescence of certain products very quickly. As an example, the lifespan of the average desktop computer in the USA is 2 years[14].

Table 1: average electronic waste produced per person, by country

Country Production in kg/year Sources
Canada 5.515 2005[3][4]
United States 4.479 2005[5][6]
United Kingdom 17.384 [15] 2008[7][8]

[edit] Environmental effects and toxicity

[edit] Lead

Consumer electronics make up 40 % of the lead in [US] landfills.[16]

In electronic waste, lead occurs mainly in two forms; in CRTW monitors and in lead solder. CRT monitors produce x-rays, as the result of accelerated electrons interacting with the glass of the display. Therefore, the glass of the display and the internal shielding is leaded. About 24% of the glass is lead oxide[17].

Lead has a number of adverse effects on the human body, including decreased fertility in women, delayed mental development in children, and has been linked to a number of psychological conditions, Lead poisoningW occurs due to high lead concentrations in the blood, mainly from ambient environmental sources. There are a wide range of symptoms, including anemia, kidney and gastrointestinal issues and reduced nervous system response.

[edit] Other heavy metals

About 70 % of the heavy metals (mercury and cadmium) in US landfills come from electronic waste.[18]

Certain metals are directly dangerous to humans, while others impact us in other ways. Most of these metals play vital biological roles in out bodies, but become toxic if taken up in the wrong fashion or in too large a quantity.

Metals such as copper, zinc, antimony, and iron are poisonous in very small quantities (mg/kg of body mass levels) if ingested. Molecules containing these metals such as copper sulfate and tin salts are also extremely poisonous.

Other metals such as cadmium, chromium (VI), nickel compounds are IARC Group 1 carcinogens. [19]

Thallium is extremely dangerous, as even skin contact can be deadly.[20] Similarly, mercury poisoning results in organ damage or failure.

[edit] Brominated flame retardants

Brominated flame retardants such as PBDEW, HBCDW[21] and TBBPAW[22] are present in many plastics [23].

[edit] Plastic additives

A number of compounds are added to plastic for a number of reasons. The additive bisphenol A recently received considerable media attention, after it was shown to cause acute reproductive issues.

[edit] Other toxins

Bioaccumulating toxins such as PCBW, PCDDW, PCDFW, and PBDEW are present in small quantities [24]. BioaccumulationW is a process in which an organism accumulates an unwanted substance in its body faster than it can be expelled. This process works in concert with biomagnificationW, to pose threats to human reproduction, and the development of the child. Numerous studies have shown that the above stated chemicals pose a long-term threat to human health[25][26][27].

[edit] Recycling electronic waste

Main article: Metal reclamation and recycling of electronic waste

Electronic waste recycling is a complex task, especially when the safe disposal of numerous hazardous materials is required.

[edit] Legislation and practices

Main article: Electronic waste legislation and practices

Electronic waste legislation and practices vary by country, but there are a number of international initiatives, such as the 1989 Basel Conventions and the European Union’s Reduction of Hazardous Substances Directive.

[edit] The role you play

As an individual, you have a considerable ability to influence the electronics industry and how the electronic waste you produce is handled and disposed of.

Sustainable computing

[edit] Reduce

The ideal way to reduce the impact that electronic waste has on humanity, and the environment that sustains it, is by reducing our consumption of electronic devices. The electronics industry is a source of constant innovations and very short timespans between generations of technology. This creates a climate that encourages upgrading equipment before its useful lifespan is spent. Before purchasing electronics, as a gift or for yourself, consider what you will use it for and how long it is expected that it will be used for. Do the benefits outweigh the cost of the item and the impact it will eventually have?

[edit] Reuse

As explained above, many electronic products are unwanted and disposed of even while they still function. If you no longer want an electronic item, consider selling or donating it to someone who would. Online services such as Freecycle [9], Freegle, Craigslist [10] and EcoBees can help you find people would like these items.

[edit] Recycle

If the electronics you no longer want have no value to anyone else, make sure that you take it to a local electronics recycler.

[edit] References

  1. Hilty, L. et Al., 2004, “The future impact ICT on environmental sustainability. Refinement and quantification,” Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Fourth Interim Report; 2004.
  2. http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/manage.htm Accessed Nov. 11, 2008.
  3. http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/manage.htm Accessed Nov. 11, 2008.
  4. See Electronic waste legislations and practices.
  5. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32002L0096:EN:HTML Accessed November 15, 2008.
  6. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/cadmium/cadmimcs06.pdf Accessed November 15, 2008
  7. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/beryllium/mcs-2008-beryl.pdf Accessed November 15, 2008
  8. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/thallium/mcs-2008-thall.pdf Accessed November 15, 2008
  9. http://www.speclab.com/elements/thallium.htm Accessed November 11, 2008.
  10. http://www.e1.greatlakes.com/fr/products/jsp/antimony_fr_prod.jsp Accessed November 15, 2008
  11. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/antimony/mcs-2008-antim.pdf Accessed November 15, 2008
  12. Cui, J., Zhang, L., 2008, "Metallurgical recovery of metals from electronic waste: A review," Journal of Hazardous Materials, 158.
  13. Morf, L. et al., 2006, “Metals, non-metals and PCB in electrical and electronic waste – Actual levels in Switzerland,” Waste Management, ‘’’2007’’’, (27).
  14. Kang, H. et Al., 2004, "Electronic waste recycling: A review of U.S. infrastructure and technology options," Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 2005, (45), p.4 .
  15. Note: this number is very high compared to other countries. Other sources quote similar[1], or considerably higher [2] production.
  16. Widmer, R. et al., 2005 “Global perspectives on e-waste,” Environmental Impact Assessment Review, ‘’’2005’’’, (25).
  17. Nnorom, I. et al., 2007, “Overview of electronic waste (e-waste) management practices and legislations, and their poor applications in the developing countries,” Resources Conservation & Recycling, ‘’’2008’’’, (52), p. 4.
  18. Widmer, R. et al., 2005 “Global perspectives on e-waste,” Environmental Impact Assessment Review, ‘’’2005’’’, (25).
  19. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/index.php Accessed November 21, 2008
  20. http://msds.chem.ox.ac.uk/TH/thallium.html Accessed November 7, 2008
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16830527
  22. http://ecb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/DOCUMENTS/Existing-Chemicals/RISK_ASSESSMENT/OJ_RECOMMENDATION/ojrec79947.pdf
  23. Choi, K.-I. et al., 2008, "Leaching of brominated flame retardants from TV housing plastics...," Chemosphere (2008).
  24. Liu, H. et al., 2007, "E-waste recycling induced polybrominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzo-furans pollution in the ambient environment," Elsevier, sciencedirect.com
  25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11386736&dopt=Abstract
  26. http://www.foxriverwatch.com/baby_studies_pcbs_2.html
  27. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15751269

[edit] Interwiki links