WHAT IS E-WASTE? E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life." Common electronic products include: • Televisions and Monitors • Computers • Computer Peripherals • Audio/Stereo Equipment • VCRs • DVD Players • Video Cameras • Telephones • Fax and Copy Machines • Cellular Phones • Wireless Devices • Video Game Console

DEFINATION : "Electronic waste" may be defined as all secondary computers, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, and other items such as TVs and refrigerators, whether sold, donated, or discarded by their original owners. This definition includes used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal. Others define the reusables (working and repairable electronics) and secondary scrap (copper, steel, plastic, etc.) to be "commodities", and reserve the term "waste" for residue or material which was represented as working or repairable but which is dumped or disposed or discarded by the buyer rather than recycled, including residue from reuse and recycling operations. Because loads of surplus electronics are frequently commingled (good, recyclable, and non-recyclable), several public policy advocates apply the term "e-waste" broadly to all surplus electronics. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refers to obsolete computers under the term "hazardous household waste". Debate continues over the distinction between "commodity" and "waste" electronics definitions. Some exporters may deliberately leave difficult-to-spot obsolete or non-working equipment mixed in loads of working equipment. Protectionists may broaden the definition of "waste" electronics. The high value of the computer recycling subset of electronic waste can help pay the cost of transportation for a large number of worthless "commodities".

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Americium: smoke alarms (radioactive source). Germanium: 1950s–1960s transistorized electronics (bipolar junction transistors). Mercury: fluorescent tubes (numerous applications), tilt switches (pinball games, mechanical doorbells, thermostats). With new technologies arising, the elimination of mercury in many new-model computers is taking place. Sulfur: lead-acid batteries. PCBs: prior to ban, almost all 1930s–1970s equipment, including capacitors, transformers, wiring insulation, paints, inks, and flexible sealants. Cadmium: light-sensitive resistors, corrosion-resistant alloys for marine and aviation environments, nickelcadmium batteries. Lead: old solder, CRT monitor glass, lead-acid batteries, some formulations of PVC. A typical 15-inch cathode ray tube may contain 1.5 pounds of lead, but other CRTs have been estimated as having up to 8 pounds of lead. Beryllium oxide: filler in some thermal interface materials such as thermal grease used on heat sinks for CPUs and power transistors, magnetrons, X-raytransparent ceramic windows, heat transfer fins in vacuum tubes, and gas lasers.

Generally non-hazardous Substances : Tin: solder, coatings on component leads. Copper: copper wire, printed circuit board tracks, component leads. Aluminium: nearly all electronic goods using more than a few watts of power (heat sinks), electrolytic capacitors. Iron: steel chassis, cases, and fixings. Silicon: glass, transistors, ICs, printed circuit boards. Nickel: nickel-cadmium batteries. Lithium: lithium-ion batteries. Zinc: plating for steel parts. Gold: connector plating, primarily in computer equipment. Some computer components can be reused in assembling new computer products, while others are reduced to metals that can be reused in applications as varied as construction, flatware, and jewelry. Substances found in large quantities include epoxy resins, fiberglass, PCBs, PVC, thermosetting plastics, lead, tin, copper, silicon, beryllium, carbon, iron and aluminum. Elements found in small amounts include cadmium, mercury, and thallium.

EFFECTS : E-waste has many types of poisons built into it. Some of these toxic substances are what make the devices safe when they operate. Cathode-ray-tube televisions and computer monitors, last-century standbys of home and office, have enormous amounts of lead built into the glass to stop stray radiation from escaping. If these old TVs and PCs are improperly discarded at the dump, they can shatter and release dangerous amounts of lead into the ground and eventually into the water table. Extreme care must be taken to remove the lead from the glass and dispose of it in an ecologically sound manner. Semiconductors in computer chips and modern circuitry also contain many poisons, including gallium arsenide, cadmium, and beryllium. Mercury is sometimes used in switches. PVC, a known carcinogen, is used in the plastic coatings of the wires and cables, and brominated flame retardants are included in other plastics, such as the outer casing of processors. If these products are burned, or fragmented and pulverized into dust—as happens in some low-tech developing-world recycling operations—they release highly toxic substances into the atmosphere. If they’re thrown into landfills and allowed to break down over time, they release the same poisons into the land and possibly into the water table.

Lead is toxic to the kidneys, accumulating in the body and eventually affecting the nervous and reproductive systems. Children’s mental development can be impaired by low-level exposure to lead. When burned, PVC produces dioxins, some of the most hazardous carcinogens known. Brominated flame retardants have been linked to fetal damage and thyroid problems. Barium produces brain swelling after a short exposure. It may cause weakness in muscles as well as heart, liver, and spleen damage. Hexavalent chromium damages kidneys, the liver, and DNA. Asthmatic bronchitis has been linked to this substance. Mercury is known to harm developing fetuses and is passed through the mother’s milk to newborns. In adults it can cause brain and kidney damage. Beryllium causes acute or chronic beryllium disease, a deadly ailment affecting the lungs. Cadmium is a carcinogen and long-term exposure leads to kidney and bone damage.

Dangerous Exports Disposing of e-waste is a global concern. While the developed world has consumed the largest share of the more than one billion personal computers sold, the lessdeveloped countries have tended to pay the environmental price. Cheap labor and lax environmental laws have created an e-waste trail from the developed world to Asia and Africa, where many of the digital discards are sent for reprocessing. Workers often take the computers and their toxic monitors apart with no protection from such hazardous substances as lead, cadmium, or beryllium, and that can easily compromise their health and pollute their land and water. An international accord known as the Basel Convention has banned the export of such hazardous waste to poorer countries, but the practice continues, as pointed out by Chris Carroll in National Geographic’s January 2008 issue. According to the Basel Action Network, the recyclers in those countries reap only about six dollars’ worth of gold and other material from our unwanted electronics. Local charity drives in the U.S. often collect old computers “for Africa” or other far-flung places, on the assumption that the inhabitants need these modern devices if they’re to “catch up.” A few of these hand-me-downs arrive in a usable condition after some refurbishing, but more often the recipients wind up footing the bill for the disposal of the West’s well-intentioned handouts.

Due to lower environmental and labor standards, cheap labor, and the relatively high value of recovered raw materials in China, Malaysia, India, Kenya, and various African countries, electronic waste is being sent to these countries for processing, sometimes illegally. It is commonly believed that a majority of surplus laptops are routed to developing nations as "dumping grounds for ewaste". Because the United States has not ratified the Basel Convention or its Ban Amendment, and has no domestic laws forbidding the export of toxic waste, the Basel Action Network estimates that about 80% of the electronic waste directed to recycling in the U.S. does not get recycled there at all, but is put on container ships and sent to countries such as China. Such countries utilize methods that are not only more harmful, but also more wasteful. An expedient and prevalent method is simply to toss equipment onto an open fire, in order to melt plastics and to burn away unvaluable metals. This releases carcinogens and neurotoxins into the air, contributing to an acrid, lingering smog. These noxious fumes include dioxins and furans. Bonfire refuse can be disposed of quickly into drainage ditches or waterways feeding the ocean or local water supplies.

LEGISLATION ON ELECTRONIC WASTE More and more states are drafting legislation for the environment-friendly disposal of electronic waste. States have begun to address the e-waste problem by taking steps to ban cathode ray tubes (CRTs) from landfills, imposing fees to fund recycling programs and having state agencies study ways to reduce the amount of waste. One model to the ewaste problem is to impose a fee on new electronic equipment that is used to fund recycling programs. Another option to the growth of e-waste is to require manufacturers to develop and fund programs to collect and recycle the devices they make. The benefit of this type of legislation is it makes manufacturers more responsible for coming up with a solution to the e-waste problem by making more environmentally friendly products.

RECYCLING : Today the electronic waste recycling business is in all areas of the developed world a large and rapidly consolidating business. Electronic waste processing systems have matured in recent years, following increased regulatory, public, and commercial scrutiny, and a commensurate increase in entrepreneurial interest. Part of this evolution has involved greater diversion of electronic waste from energyintensive downcycling processes (e.g., conventional recycling), where equipment is reverted to a raw material form. This diversion is achieved through reuse and refurbishing. The environmental and social benefits of reuse include diminished demand for new products and virgin raw materials (with their own environmental issues); larger quantities of pure water and electricity for associated manufacturing; less packaging per unit; availability of technology to wider swaths of society due to greater affordability of products; and diminished use of landfills. Audiovisual components, televisions, VCRs, stereo equipment, mobile phones, other handheld devices, and computer components contain valuable elements and substances suitable for reclamation, including lead, copper, and gold.

Consumer recycling Consumer recycling options include donating equipment directly to organizations in need, sending devices directly back to their original manufacturers, or getting components to a convenient recycler or refurbisher. Donation Consumer recycling includes a variety of donation options, such as charities which may offer tax benefits. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of electronic recycling and donation options for American consumers. The National Cristina Foundation, Tech Soup (the Donate Hardware List), the Computer Takeback Campaign,and the National Technology Recycling Project provide resources for recycling. However, local recycling sites that do not process waste products on site, and consumers that throw electronics in the trash, still contribute to electronic waste. Takeback Individuals looking for environmentally-friendly ways in which to dispose of electronics can find corporate electronic takeback and recycling programs across the country. Corporations nationwide have begun to offer lowcost to no-cost recycling, open to the public in most cases, and have opened centers nationally and in some cases internationally. Such programs frequently offer services to take back and recycle electronics, including mobile phones, laptop and desktop computers, digital cameras, and home and auto electronics. Companies such as Staples, Toshiba, and Gateway offer takeback programs that provide monetary incentives for recyclable and/or working technologies.

Consumer awareness efforts :

AddressTheMess.com is a Comedy Central pro-social campaign that seeks to increase awareness of the dangers of electronic waste and to encourage recycling. Partners in the effort include Earth911.org, ECOInternational.com, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many Comedy Central viewers are early adopters of new electronics, and produce a commensurate amount of waste that can be directed towards recycling efforts. The station is also taking steps to reduce its own environmental impact, in partnership with NativeEnergy.com, a company that specializes in renewable energy and carbon offsets. The Electronic Take-Back Coalition is a campaign aimed at protecting human health and limiting environmental effects where electronics are being produced, used, and discarded. The ETBC aims to place responsibility for disposal of technology products on electronic manufacturers and brand owners, primarily through community promotions and legal enforcement initiatives. It provides recommendations for consumer recycling and a list of recyclers judged environmentally responsible. Basel Action Network is uniquely focused on addressing global environmental injustices and economic inefficiency of global "toxic trade". It works for human rights and the environment by preventing disproportionate dumping on a large scale. It promotes sustainable solutions and attempts to ban waste trade.


In developed countries, electronic waste processing usually first involves dismantling the equipment into various parts (metal frames, power supplies, circuit boards, plastics), often by hand. In an alternative bulk system, a hopper conveys material for shredding into a sophisticated mechanical separator, with screening and granulating machines to separate constituent metal and plastic fractions, which are sold to smelters or plastics recyclers. Such recycling machinery is enclosed and employs a dust collection system. Most of the emissions are caught by scrubbers and screens. Magnets, eddy currents, and trammel screens are employed to separate glass, plastic, and ferrous and nonferrous metals, which can then be further separated at smelter. Leaded glass from CRTs is reused in car batteries, ammunition, and lead wheel weights, or sold to foundries as a fluxing agent in processing raw lead ore. Copper, gold, palladium, silver, and tin are valuable metals sold to smelters for recycling. Hazardous smoke and gases are captured, contained, and treated to mitigate environmental threat. These methods allow for safe reclamation of all valuable computer construction materials. Hewlett-Packard product recycling solutions manager Renee St. Denis describes its process as: "We move them through giant shredders about 30 feet tall and it shreds everything into pieces about the size of a quarter. Once your disk drive is shredded into pieces about this big, it's hard to get the data off." An ideal electronic waste recycling plant combines dismantling for component recovery with increased costeffective processing of bulk electronic waste.

CONCLUSIONS : E-waste is an emerging issue, driven by the rapidly increasing quantities of complex end-of-life electronic equipment. The global level of production, consumption and recycling induces large flows of both toxic and valuable substances. The international regulations mainly developed under the Basel Convention, focusing on a global ban for transboundary movements of e-waste, seem to face difficulties in being implemented effectively; however, a conclusive account of the situation and trends is not yet possible. On a global scale some attempts have been made to identify past, present and future e-waste streams. The focus has been laid on quantities and in some cases on routes and spatial distribution, but a global perspective is still lacking. The introduction of a comprehensive legal framework by several OECD countries and notably by the European Union and its member states is not only intended to forward elaborate WEEE management systems but also better product designs. The development of these legal frameworks is starting to transform perceptions and production in non-OECD countries. Exports to the EU are at stake both due the restrictions on hazardous substances (RoHS Directive) and the required compliance with the WEEE Directive, foremost due to the financial implications it brings with it of guaranteeing that all EEE imported into the EU is recycled. Non-OECD countries are rapidly becoming major EEE producers and are interested in closed loop material cycles to access urgently needed raw materials. At the same time this could offer business opportunities for labour intensive dismantling and recycling operations in low income economies.

Although awareness and readiness for implementing improvements is increasing rapidly, there are many obstacles to manage end-of-life products safely and effectively in industrializing countries: The lack of reliable data poses a challenge to policy makers wishing to design an e-waste management strategy and to an industry wishing to make rational investment decisions. The lack of a safe WEEE recycling infrastructure in the formal sector and thus reliance on the capacities of the informal sector may pose severe risks to the environment and human health. However, collecting and preprocessing can be handled efficiently by the informal sector and — at the same time — can offer numerous job opportunities. The lack of international standards for simple but efficient WEEE management systems delays their implementation. As a first step, the collection of dbest practice examples or dlessons learnt from carefully designed pilot implementations in industrializing countries would help to accelerate the mitigation process. Empa’s assessments in Delhi, Beijing and Johannesburg have revealed deficits and suggest the following recommendations: Technology and skills: Support (in)formal SMEs and larger smelting industries(processing metal, glass and plastic wastes) through specific training and consultancy in cleaner technologies and process handling to improve current e-waste processes byintroducing best affordable technologies (BAT) and by upgrading and qualifying lowand medium-skilled labor. Policy and legislation: Support municipalities and/or provincial governments in the drafting, the (public) consultation and the implementation of legislation on e-waste handling by offering advice and exposure and by testing pilot management schemes.

Business and finance: Support securing economic efficiency and sustainability of e-waste management systems by optimizing the value added and improve the effectiveness of collection and recycling systems (e.g., public–privatepartnerships in setting up buy-back or drop-off centers) and by designing-in additional funding e.g., advance recycling fees (ARF). Although each of the assessed countries needs to develop expertise in all three areas to tackle its potential e-waste management problems, most countries already have specific expertise, which can be used and shared. To optimize learning and maximize the efficiency of support for implementing improvements, a knowledge partnership in e-waste management is proposed in the form of an international WEEE Competence Centre. Partnerships among developing and developed countries offer the possibility to develop new models for e-waste management that will benefit users, manufacturers, and recyclers in all countries.




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