E-Waste Management: Challenges and Issues

E-Waste Management: Challenges and Issues

Nina Godbole (IBM India Pvt. Ltd, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-834-6.ch035
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Electronic Waste (e-Waste) is a major concern given the negative effects it creates on our environment. Huge quantities of e-Waste are generated every year and the rate is expected to rise in our digital economy. There are regulations and laws around e-Waste; however for its effective enforcement, all the relevant stakeholders need to come together to enforce the laws and regulations. In this chapter, the author describe the e-Waste problem, the challenges and issues involved and finally, present the life-cycle approach (cradle-to-grave) and finally, the author present a policy framework for effective e-Waste management.
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Introduction To E-Waste

Electronic Waste (‘e-Waste’) is any litter created by discarded electronic devices and components as well as discarded and degenerating substances involved in their manufacture or use. e-Waste is the catch all term for ‘electronic waste’ that covers televisions, cell phones, microwaves, VCRs/DVD players, computer parts and monitors, printers, cables, batteries, CDs/DVDs, and much more. The other terms for e-Waste are or ‘electronic waste’ or ‘waste of electronic goods’ or WEE (waste from electrical and electronic equipment). e-Waste ‘is now recognized as the fastest growing waste stream in the industrialized world’. The total annual volume of e-waste is soon expected to reach 40 million metric tones (Ashley, MacDonald, Amos, 2008) –. The three major groups in which electronic waste contributors can be categorized are: computers, mobile phones and television sets.

Environmentally responsible use of computers (Green Computing) and related resources includes practices such as the implementation of energy-efficient central processing units (CPUs), servers and peripherals as well as reduced resource consumption resulting in the emerging IT practices such ‘virtualization’ and ‘server consolidation’ and proper disposal of electronic waste. For the discussion, in this chapter, ‘green computing’ includes the ‘after life’ consideration about the harmful environmental effect of these products after they are discarded and also to bring in the ‘total life cycle’ approach (i.e. end-to-end) to e-Waste management thinking. Life cycle of electronic products spans from procurement/acquisition/manufacturing of the electronic products to their disposal.

To illustrate the e-Waste issue, the rising volumes of e-Waste generated for the computer category alone (due to rapid technological obsolesce), is seen in Figure 1 and the estimated quantity of e-Waste generated by a typical household is shown in Table 1.

Figure 1.

Home computers obsolescence: 1997 to 2007 (Source: “Mandated Recycling of Electronics: A Lose-Lose-Lose Proposition” by Dana Joel Gattuso, Issue Analysis 2005 No. 2, Competitive Enterprise Institute, February 2005, http://cei.org/pdf/4386.pdf. (Obtained the Permission to use this Graphics, See mail at yahoo from Ivan Osorio IOsorio@cei.org))

Table 1.
Estimated quantity of electronic waste generated by a typical household http://www.hearusnow.org/fileadmin/sitecontent/HUN_WP_e-Waste_4-14-05.pdf - Consumers Union White Paper titled “Electronic Waste: Finding Sustainable Solutions that Work Better for Consumers”
Number per
Total Units over
20 Years
Cell phone     2     2     20
Computer     3     1.5     10
Television     8     2.6     7
Compact Disk
     6     2     7
Printer     4     1.4     7
PDA, Palm pilot, or MP3 player     6     1     3
VCR/DVD     5     1.7     7
Cordless telephone     7     1.5     4
Answering Machine     6     1     3
Estimated total number of units over 20 years: 68

Key Terms in this Chapter

Product Stewardship: According to the author concept is related to EPR; however according to some people, it is not. In principle, a “steward” is the company, organization or individual who is resident in a country with the closest commercial connection to the WEEE sold in or into a state of that country. The concept of product stewardship focuses on product life cycle.

EPA: Is the acronym for Environmental Protection Agency in the United States of America. EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. EPA employs 17,000 people across the country. EPA is headquartered in Washington, DC, EPA has got 10 regional offices, and more than a dozen labs. EPA has got technically trained staff consisting of engineers, scientists, and policy analysts. A large number of EPA employees are legal, public affairs, financial, information management and computer specialists.

eWaste: Or electronic waste is any litter created by discarded electronic devices and components as well as substances involved in their manufacture or use.

Cradle to Grave: is the term used to denote the life cycle involved in eWaste starting from how and where it is generated in business organization, how device usage affects the creation of eWaste, the negative impact generated on the environment and what controls organizations should have in place for safe disposal.

ISO 14000: Refers to a series of standards on environmental management tools and systems. ISO 14000 deals with a company’s system for managing its day-to-day operations and how they impact the environment.

EPR: Extended producer responsibility (EPR), concept based on the “polluter pays” principle, entails making manufacturers responsible for the entire lifecycle of the products and packaging they produce. One aim of EPR policies is to internalize the environmental costs of products into their price. Another is to shift the economic burden of managing products that have reached the end of their useful life from local government and taxpayers to product producers and consumers. The concept of EPR was first formally introduced in Sweden by Thomas Lindhqvist in a 1990 report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. EPR was first initiated in Germany under its Packaging Ordinance of 1991 Subsequently, the following definition of EPR emerged: Extended Producer Responsibility is an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact from a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal of the product

Basel Convention: is the convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes. The Convention has 172 Parties and aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, management, transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous and other wastes. The Basel Convention came into force in 1992.

CRT: Cathode Ray Tube) monitors that are used inside television sets. It contains some toxic elements and therefore, a concern to environmentalists when CRTs are not disposed off appropriately.

WEEE: Is the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment. The sudden boom in the IT sector has resulted in a cycle of tautological interplay between rapid technological advancements and subsequent development of newer and more efficient ideas. This has resulted in the rapid obsolescence of the electronic goods. The complexity associated with the recycling of these items accompanied by the extremely high advances in technology and consumer behaviour and improper means of waste disposal has resulted in the accumulation of the outdated electronic devices and their components. Today this forms a separate category of wastes by itself known as Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (or WEEE). The WEEE includes not only wastes from computers and processing devices but also the everyday household electrical and electronic items like washing machines, microwaves and even stereos. A characteristic of the WEEE is that it consists of bulk homogeneous material (like the Aluminium casing of the processors or the plastic body of the washing machine) and minute heterogeneous components (like the stereo circuit boards, the processor PCBs and the controllers in the microwaves).

eWaste Policy: Is the framework consisting of the approach to and processes and controls for appropriate handling of the electronic waste material

Green Computing: Is the ‘environmentally responsible use of computers and related resources

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