Electronic devices dominate our world. Look around you and count how many devices surround us every minute of our lives. They have become indispensable to modern humans. More than that, a large number of people’s jobs depend upon it. From the device you are reading this blog on — to the circuit board and battery in your television remote — all are electronic. It shouldn’t surprise you that electronic waste or e-waste forms a noticeable chunk of the overall solid waste of a community. But why is it important to segregate, treat, and recycle e-waste from other forms of solid waste separately?
E-waste has more impact on the environment than other forms of solid waste. Segregating them becomes crucial. Dumping e-waste in landfills can cause the heavy metals in them to leach into the ground. Due to this, the groundwater and the soil become hazardous. Along with the chronic effects on humans, some heavy metals are hard to mine. The pollution that mining causes should be a reason to recycle heavy metals.
According to the report from the ASSOCHAM-NEC in 2018, India generated almost 12.5 lakhs metric tons of e-waste annually in 2014 and it increased to 2 million tons per annum in 2018 but only 438,085 tons of e-waste is collected and recycled per annum. With Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh topping the list in terms of e-waste generated.
Global forecasting of e-waste. Source.
Types and sources of e-waste depend upon the user discarding their electronic waste. They typically include housing appliances, office computers, telecommunications, medical equipment, and consumer electronics. E-waste is sometimes discarded along with other non-biodegradable solid wastes. A consensus among us is that e-waste is just like any other plastic waste. This needs to change. E-waste is supposed to be segregated and treated separately.
Segregation of E-waste:
Sorting out e-waste at the source, just like any other waste, has a massive advantage. The time required for post-processing is reduced. It allows for better planning of treatment of e-waste, reduces transportation expenses, and alleviates the overall workload of the chain.
The significance of e-waste segregation is huge. There should be a separate and parallel collection of e-waste from municipal entities. E-waste is a promising source of valuable metals like gold, silver, and copper, which are extracted and can be re-introduced in the production cycle. Source separation and segregation of e-waste are the roots of better recycling and disposal.
How is E-waste Recycled?
In developing countries like India, e-waste recycling is primarily an informal sector. Unlike developed countries where the regulations are strict and monitored. With over 450+ dedicated e-waste dismantlers and recyclers authorized by SPCBs/PCCs (State Pollution Control Boards/Pollution Control Committees) under CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) as of April 2022, private sector participation is significant in India.
Collection and Transportation:
E-waste is first collected from the source and transported to the treatment location. The number of destinations depends on the system adopted by the authorities. In India, e-waste is treated primarily by the private sector. Hence, there can be slightly different processes flow.
After reaching the treatment center, e-waste is sorted out depending upon the type of electronic device. Home appliances, computers, smartphones, inverters, and batteries are some categories.
This waste is dismantled manually by workers. Dismantled components are categorized as circuit boards, alkaline batteries, lithium batteries, outer metal/plastic cover, and components with heavy and valuable metals.
This step is carried out in two steps. First, the dismantled components are passed through a giant magnet that separates the ferrous metals like iron and steel. Sometimes eddy current is used to attract non-ferrous metals as well. The separated metals are then carried out to designated stations for further recycling, through smelting or repurposing.
The next step is to run the remaining materials — which mainly consists of plastics and glass — through water. Along with that, hand-picking of obvious materials is also carried out.
After all the main segregation processes are completed, the components are sent to designated recycling plants for further treatment. Sometimes, these components are processed on-site.
How Conscious Should You Be About E-Waste?
E-waste is a part of every household and commercial space. Being simply aware of it and disposing of it with other wastes is not being conscious of the potential impacts caused by it. There are many factors that can help you become more mindful and intentional about your e-waste:
- Recognizing there are regulations made by the government for e-waste.
- E-waste impact human health and the environment.
- Not disposing of along with other solid wastes.
- Informed about nearby e-waste collection and treatment centers (handy list made by the CPCB)
- Composition of electronics and possibility of having precious/rare earth metals inside them.
Where To Begin?
Here is a small list of e-waste collection and recycling centers (not affiliated in any way) in major Indian cities:
Without proper incentives for the private sector, many businesses fail. Consequently, e-waste ends up in landfills. Of course, if the volume of e-waste that companies receive for recycling increases, their profits will increase as well. And it becomes easier still if there is separation done at the source itself.
As an effort toward reducing e-waste generated on your part, you can:
- Choose quality products that last longer.
- Use rechargeable batteries.
- Adequately maintain existing appliances.
- Buy electronic devices made from recycled components.
So next time when the battery of your clock runs out, or the phone is just too old to continue using, will you consider disposing of them properly?