The 20th century will be marked in the human history by the impact of technological advancements in general and “big leap forward” in information and communications technology (ICT) in particular. The digital revolution, started in the late 1970s, led to explosive production and consequently to extensive use of electronic and electrical equipments in almost all of the contemporary societies all over the world, thus making the ICTs essential yet common commodities and more affordable to the end users and like all other commodities in the market economies, are being designed and manufactured such that they reach to their end of life cycle sooner.
This phenomenon is creating a massive amount of electronic waste (e waste) globally, and has presented the challenge of dealing with toxic materials in ICTs that harm lives and the environment.
Electronic waste is a loosely defined term referring to electronics items and their ingredients that reach at the end of their useful life cycle (i.e. broken) or no longer wanted. Almost anything with a cord a wall plug is classified as e-waste, including cords and wires themselves.
Household appliances which generate bulk of E-waste include microwave ovens, refrigerators, air-conditioners, food processors, stoves, washing machines, water heaters, vacuum cleaners, radios, televisions and other domestic appliances.
Computers and their accessories are also major contributors in e-waste basket and they include the following
Fax machines Copiers
Power Supply Units
Printed circuit boards
In addition to computers and their accessories there are other electronic items which form a substantial part of the e-waste are Mice, MP3Players, Musical greeting cards, Shredders, Speakers, Stereos, TVs, and VCRs
All over the world the E-waste and household appliances are illegal to discard or dispose in the household trash or recycling because they contain hazardous materials like lead, arsenic and mercury. The users must take these items to state-licensed facilities for final disposal.
E-waste, e-scrap or waste electrical and electronic equipment are often referred as (WEEE) and are supposed to be discarded and safely disposed, after being obsolete, broken or otherwise un-usable.
E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams today and it is growing at three times the rate of municipal waste globally. In the European Union alone, 9.3 million tones of electronic equipment were put on the market in 2005. In the United States (US), about 18% of TVs and IT products (a total of 26 million TVs and 205.5 million IT products, including peripherals) and 10% of mobile phones (a total 140.3 million units) were recycled in 2007.
In 2008, over 280 million mobile handsets were sold worldwide in just the first quarter, which suggests a sale of a billion handsets in that year. With limited access to e waste data in developing countries like India and China, estimated figures are linked to sales figures for consumer electronics. Greenpeace estimates that four million PCs are discarded each year in China alone. In 2009, investigative reports by United Kingdom (UK) media houses from dumping sites in Ghana and Nigeria tracked electronic devices that belonged to the UKs leading public institutions including councils, the police department and health services.
As per careful estimates, the ICT industry generated and added 53 million tons of e-waste by year 2012. Only 13% of this waste is reported to be recycled with or without adequate safety procedures. This, however, excludes illegal dumping.
Modern electronics can contain up to 60 different elements. These devices are manufactured from human-made and natural materials. Many are valuable, some are hazardous and some are both. The most complex mix of substances is usually present in the printed wiring boards. When toxics are exposed, potential human impacts include – but are not limited to – lung cancer and damage to the heart, liver and spleen. Some could also lead to brain swelling and muscle weakness. Chromium VI and lead may also cause DNA damage. Substances like mercury can cause brain and liver damage if ingested or inhaled. The burning of e waste is very common in developing countries and it can leave high levels of lead content presence in soils and underground water table- so injurious to human, animal and plant life
Many environmental groups claim that developed countries use developing countries or emerging economies as “dumping grounds” for their e-wastes. These groups often state that growing consumerism and fast improvements in technology are leading to an increase in the amount of dangerous e waste being dumped on the worlds poorest nations.
It is imperative that scientific research should be conducted for the methods and detailed procedures for safe collection and disposal of e-waste materials are arranged so that their ill effects on human health and other living being on the planet of earth can be minimized.