Electronic waste is a growing global problem and as the demand and supply of electronic products grow, so does the–e- waste. Consumerism is on a steady rise, and people want new mobiles and computers every few months. That means more and more landfills and incinerators to take care of discarded and obsoleted electronics and potentially seeping of toxic substances like lead and mercury into groundwater. This can lead to serious health hazards and create toxic footprints. The essay looks at new developing technologies for the recycling of computers and creates a report on the basis of the quadruple bottom line. It looks at the aspects of environmental sustainability, social sustainability, economic sustainability and governance for sustainability regarding the recycling of computers. There is a need for sterner guidelines and laws related to collection and disposal of e-waste. Global efforts are required to raise the e-waste recycling capacity of existing and streamline the process for e-waste recyclers.
One of the fastest growing toxic footprints on the planet relates to electronic waste or e-waste. The same technology that was hailed as a hero for future modern development and rapid economic growth is now creating a new kind of waste that is developing into a serious challenge. The growing demand for consumer goods has raised the demand, production, and consumption of electrical and electronic equipment. The world is in the middle of a digital revolution for the past decade, and now electronic gadgets and appliances are filling every aspect of daily lives. However, there are toxic footprints everywhere as those electronic equipment carry a high obsolescence rate (Pinto, 2008).
The case selected here relates to electronic and electrical appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines, television, computers, laptops, mobile phone, digital music recorders and lot more items fall under E-waste. The problem focuses on the amount of total e-waste generation and its current and future implications. The United States and China generate the maximum amount of e-waste (McCarthy, 2015).Recycling of e-waste could recover thousands of kilotons of iron, copper and gold worth billions and lower stress on the environmental resources.
What are E-waste and its hazards?
The e-waste is made of tons of plastics, lead, mercury, and nickel. Developed nations export tons of electronic waste containing a host of hazardous constituents every month to developing countries. E-waste is very diverse and differs in products and consists of thousands of different substances that fall under hazardous and non-hazardous categories. Broadly speaking they are made of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, concrete and ceramics, wood and plywood, glass, plastics and other items. The presence of elements like arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury selenium and hexavalent chromium are classified as hazardous waste (Pinto, 2008). These toxic substances can cause an adverse impact on the environment and human health if not handled properly. A computer contains highly toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, polyvinyl chloride, BFR, and phosphor compounds.
E-waste is unregulated at the federal level and often disposed of in incinerators or municipal solid waste landfills. It is difficult to say how much e-waste is exported or recycled. Developing countries in Asia or Africa are most likely to receive the transported E-waste material where it is repaired or refurbished as a state by Luther (2010). However, recycling operations in those countries create a significant risk to the environment and human health, particularly to children. Environmental impacts include contamination of surface water, groundwater, soil and air. Metal recovery and plastic recycling emit harmful heavy metals and aromatic hydrocarbons Primitive e-waste recycling activities create exposure to lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic contamination.
A formal recycling of e-waste in the developing world has surfaced as a new sustainability challenge. An informal recycling in China, India, Africa and elsewhere is creating environmental problems as the procedures emit pollutants that are dumped into local water systems.Scientific studies confirm significant impacts on the environment and human health Trade bans, control approaches and new policies can be pursued at national and international level. Widespread violations of the current policies and laws are common. A poorly enforced ban is just as worse as no ban at all (Totoki et al., 2013)
What to do with outdated computers?
The technology focused upon in this essay to deal with the issue of e-waste is the recycling technology. The amount of computer waste rises every year and majority of the quantities of materials are not recovered from the computer waste. The users want the latest technologies in computers that are more powerful and at the same price. This cyclic trend is going on for the past two decades of computer history. While millions of new computers get purchased by consumers every, a significantly larger number of computers gets obsolete at the same time. About 75 percent of those obsolete computers are not discarded or recycled as stated by Houtman (2013).
Outdated computers carry large amounts of recoverable materials such as plastics from casings, glass from monitors and metals from wires and circuit boards. A metric ton of electronic scrap from personal computers can generate more gold than 17 t of gold ore. Most of the obsolete computers end up in municipal landfills. This could be of keen interest to recyclers and add to the environmental sustainability.
Environmental Recycling lowers the need for new materials, and electronics recycling of computers can help recover material such as glass, plastics, and metals like aluminum, steel, copper as well as precious metals like platinum, gold and silver. Thus, the natural capital is kept intact, and waste emissions are controlled by the capacity of the environment. More importantly, there is a considerable reduction of any damage to environment and health. As there is a need for less material, the energy consumption gets lowered, and there is a lesser amount of toxic material destined for landfills. The reuse of computers means less disruption to the environment (Houtman, 2013).Recycling of computers and electronics can lower environmental impact because of the primary production of electronic products that require intensive stages such as mining and smelting of precious and special metals. Reuse and recovery mean positive impact for the environment a stated by Namias (2013).
Sustainable consumption is a central point in environmental policy, and any new technology must reach sustainable consumption. Thus, new ideas are required to work on the eco-efficiency of consumption and encourage the maintenance of social and human capital. Technological and environmental experts put forth many of those innovative ideas that must be adopted by the consumers for higher success. Technology assessment and development must be technology orientated as well as evolve more towards the user-centered approaches. The users can be engaged in technology evaluation and development and focus on the usability assessment (Heiskanen, Kasanen & Timonen, 2005). Successful recycling of computers would mean getting the consumer involved and provide food for thought for them. Sustainable consumption has become a critical part of environmental policy.
Economical Sustainability Economical sustainability develops naturally with recycling of computers. Currently, the most efficient way to recycle computers is through manufacturers, hazardous waste facilities and electronics recycling firms (Houtman, 2013). One of the chief economic motivations for the electronics recycling industry is the recovery of precious metals from electronic waste. The circuit boards carry the highest precious metal values like gold and copper. Plastics recovered from computer casings can be recycled and melted down for use as raw materials to create new products. Glass from cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors is classified as hazardous waste and needs to be handled, processed and disposed of under the federally mandated guidelines.
Dell, the technology giant, sourced recycled plastic to build monitors and desktops in 2014 and incorporated waste materials from old computers in new products. These efforts are part of its ambitious plans to create eco-friendly products and cut e-waste. It plans to recover 2bn pounds of electronic waste by 2020 and create 100% recyclable or compostable packaging as stated by Earley (2015). Electronic devices consist of different elements, and most of these are valuable, and some are hazardous. Precious metals much as gold and silver are rare and carry high economic value. Electronic equipment is a primary consumer of precious and special metals and recycling computers can add to the economic factors (Namias, 2013).
Governance for Sustainability The new legislation, WEEE or Waste electrical and electronic equipment came into force in 2007 that stipulate how and why the users must treat electric Wade separately from other waste and in an environmentally sound way. European Recycling Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) directive and DTI’s waste acceptance criteria (WAC) are the two most important government guidelines for the disposal and handling of e-waste. These laws and policies acknowledge that electronic equipment needs specialist handling and disposal as they carry a broad range of hazardous materials. The WAC specifically covers the handling and disposal of computer equipment as stated by Mohamed (2016).
Future pathway for computer recycling
With growing awareness and efforts, computer recycling may increase as a higher number of consumers recognize the value of recycling. Still, it is not viable for the recyclers to pick up individual computers as it is not economically practical. The participation becomes lower, and slower and it turns out to be expensive as stated by low Houtman (2013). Centralized collection sites at the electronic superstores on specific dates show some promising g results. Other approaches that can be considered are to get returnable deposit fees when buying a new computer. The retailers or manufacturers should retain responsibility for take-back programs.
Governmental organizations, companies, legislators, corporations and public interest groups have been working on ideas on how to improve rates of recycling computers and lower the amount of waste generated from obsolete computers. One can upgrade their computer and increase. It’s life and thus, avoid the need to buy a new PC. Another idea is to educate the customers on how to dismantle and separate the various components efficiently and thus eliminating toxic materials wherever possible. There is plenty of information on obsolete computers and a list of recyclers at the Environmental Health Center (Houtman, 2013).
OptiPlex 3030 desktop computer is the first certified “closed loop” recycling system developed by Dell. The company has introduced the free take-back program in 78 countries and consumers are already taking advantage of it. In the process, Dell generated more than $18m in cost savings and is already replacing non-biodegradable materials with organic alternatives intruder to cut down packaging waste (Earley, 2015).Dell and United Nations Industrial Development Organization are in partnership to design developing recycling models for e-waste in developing countries. The smelting and refining industry controls e-waste recycling. Advanced Technology Materials Inc. (ATMI) has introduced selective chemical procedures that use a “green chemistry” technology to recover valuable materials from obsolete computers as stated by Namias (2013).The process is environmentally safe as well as is cost-effective. Non-toxic hydrometallurgical processing should be encouraged for the recycling method for e-waste.
Currently, the pressure of regulatory factors works as the primary driver behind the recycling of e-waste. Because of the lack of national regulations, the recycling rates in many nations get significantly hindered. It has been observed that high collection volumes are seen under states with stricter laws and when the collection is made convenient for the consumers. Landfill bans are seen to boost recycling levels (Namias, 2013).
Rapid advancements and growth in technology and electronics industry have led to a constant stream of new products. The shortened life span of electronics has generated millions of tons of e-waste that lie discarded and unused. Recycling of electronics will not only lead to the recovery of precious metals, but will also lower environmental impact that is linked to the making of electronics from raw materials, but also cut down on toxic footprints. Proper reuse and recycling ensure that hazardous and toxic substances are handled with care. Despite the benefits of recycling and re-use, the idea gets limited because of no federal legislation, insufficient collection, lack of recycling technologies and illegal export of hazardous e-waste to the developing countries. There is a need to analyze the existing approaches and policies towards e-waste in both developed and developing the world. There should be more efforts made to the development of replicable and globally consistent systems for reuse of electrical and electronic equipment. Global recycling infrastructures and technologies should be focused upon to realize sustainable e-waste recycling systems.
Computer recycling will encourage reprocessing and reuse of computers and laptops that have become obsolete. Computer components such as motherboards, mouse, monitors, screens, central processors and keyboards can be recycled in an environmentally friendly way and thus promote human and environmental health. Those wires and plastics and special metals used to make a single new component of a computer consume precious energy and raw material. Why waste money, efforts, and resources when one can renew by e-waste recycling? The components and wires from old computers can be re-used and build new computers and other products.
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