E-Waste: the Worrying New, but Solvable Pollution
By Akshika Kandage, 3rd Year Student at St Andrews University
E-waste refers to unwanted, useless electronic products, which include, but are not limited to computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines. In 2019, 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was dumped globally, while only 17.4 % of it was recycled, according to a UN report. Having such a substantial amount of discarded e-waste is alarming, because most electronics contain toxic materials, such as beryllium, cadmium, mercury, and lead. These toxic materials pose a serious environmental threat to our soil, food, water, and air. They have been known to poison humans and wildlife, especially when the toxins are in high concentrations. The bittersweet reality of e-waste is that there exist direct solutions to combat the detrimental effects of discarding it.
Using landfill, or incineration to deal with discarded electronics is unsatisfactory because the toxins are released into the environment, polluting air, land, and sea. As a result, the food chain is also polluted, resulting in a severe human health hazard.
The best way to avoid such a scenario is to recycle. Effective legislation targeting sustainable e-waste management is being adopted by nations, including the UK. The EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) aims to reduce or eliminate the toxins used in electronic equipment, at the same time increasing recovery, re-use, and recycling. The Directive holds companies legally bound to state what their products contain, with the aim of facilitating re-use when discarded.
Recycling is being addressed across the globe by corporations, and also committed young people. In 2016 a school project grew into a worldwide organisation called Reuse Orbis, involving teenagers who collect e-waste, have the metal from it extracted, melted down, then sold. Rishit Jain, the first-year undergraduate founder of REUSE ORBIS explains that, “This ensures we don’t dig the earth up for more finite resources to produce the next smartphone, but instead, reuse available minerals.”
As the demand for electronic equipment increases year by year, the need for extending recycling becomes imperative. It is estimated that the amount of e-waste will be more than doubled by 2050, with dire consequences for the environment and us humans. There is a universal need to promote and involve ourselves with the many existing and future solutions and initiatives regarding e-waste management.