Electronic waste, e-waste, e-scrap, or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) describes loosely discarded, surplus, obsolete, or broken electrical or electronic devices. Environmental groups claim that the informal processing of electronic waste in developing countries causes serious health and pollution problems. Some electronic scrap components, such as CRTs, contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants (Dell XPS M1210 Battery) .
Activists claim that even in developed countries recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to workers and communities and great care must be taken to avoid unsafe exposure in recycling operations and leaching of material such as heavy metals from landfills and incineratorashes. Scrap industry and USA EPA officials agree that materials should be managed with caution, but that environmental dangers of unused electronics have been exaggerated by groups which benefit from increased regulation (Dell Studio XPS 1340 Battery) .
"Electronic waste" may be defined as all secondary computers, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, and other items such as television sets 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 (Dell Studio XPS 1640 Battery) .
Others define the re-usables (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 (Dell Vostro 1710 Battery) .
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) includes discarded CRT monitors in its category of "hazardous household waste" (ASUS EEE PC900 battery) .
but considers CRTs set aside for testing to be commodities if they are not discarded, speculatively accumulated, or left unprotected from weather and other damage.
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 (through ignorance, or to avoid more costly treatment processes) (Dell RM791 battery) .
Protectionists may broaden the definition of "waste" electronics. The high value of the computer recyclingsubset of electronic waste (working and reusable laptops, computers, and components like RAM) can help pay the cost of transportation for a large number of worthless "electronic commodities" (Sony VGP-BPS13 battery) .
Rapid change in technology, low initial cost, and planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing surplus of electronic waste around the globe. Dave Kruch, CEO of Cash For Laptops, regards electronic waste as a "rapidly expanding" issue. Technical solutions are available, but in most cases a legal framework, a collection system, logistics, and other services need to be implemented before a technical solution can be applied (Sony VGP-BPL9 battery) .
An estimated 50 million tons of E-waste is produced each year . The USA discards 30 million computers each year and 100 million phones are disposed of in Europe each year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators. In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills comes from discarded electronics (Sony VGP-BPL11 battery) .
Global trade issues
Electronic waste is often exported to developing countries.
4.5-Volt, D, C, AA, AAA, 9-Volt,SR41/AG3, SR44/AG13 cells are all recyclable in most countries.
Increased regulation of electronic waste and concern over the environmental harm which can result from toxic electronic waste has raised disposal costs. The regulation creates an economic disincentive to remove residues prior to export (Sony VGP-BPL15 battery) .
Critics of trade in used electronics maintain that it is too easy for brokers calling themselves recyclers to export unscreened electronic waste to developing countries, such as China, India and parts of Africa, thus avoiding the expense of removing items like bad cathode ray tubes (the processing of which is expensive and difficult). The developing countries are becoming big dump yards of e-waste due to their weak laws (Dell Inspiron E1505 battery) .
Proponents of international trade point to the success of fair trade programs in other industries, where cooperation has led creation of sustainable jobs, and can bring affordable technology in countries where repair and reuse rates are higher.
Defenders of the trade in used electronics say that extraction of metals from virgin mining has also been shifted to developing countries (Dell Latitude E6400 battery) .
Hard-rock mining of copper, silver, gold and other materials extracted from electronics is considered far more environmentally damaging than the recycling of those materials. They also state that repair and reuse of computers and televisions has become a "lost art" in wealthier nations, and that refurbishing has traditionally been a path to development (HP Pavilion dv6000 Battery) .
South Korea, Taiwan, and southern China all excelled in finding "retained value" in used goods, and in some cases have set up billion-dollar industries in refurbishing used ink cartridges, single-use cameras, and working CRTs. Refurbishing has traditionally been a threat to established manufacturing, and simple protectionism explains some criticism of the trade (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ31S battery) .
Works like "The Waste Makers" by Vance Packard explain some of the criticism of exports of working product, for example the ban on import of tested working Pentium 4 laptops to China, or the bans on export of used surplus working electronics by Japan.
Opponents of surplus electronics exports argue that lower environmental and labor standards, cheap labor, and the relatively high value of recovered raw materials leads to a transfer of pollution-generating activities, such as burning of copper wire . In China, Malaysia, India, Kenya, and various African countries, electronic waste is being sent to these countries for processing, s (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ31S battery) .
ometimes illegally. Many surplus laptops are routed to developing nations as "dumping grounds for e-waste". 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 (Hp pavilion dv6000 battery) .
This figure is disputed as an exaggeration by the EPA, the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries, and the World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association. Independent research by Arizona State University showed that 87-88% of imported used computers had a higher value than the best value of the constituent materials they contained, and that "the official trade in end-of-life computers is thus drive by reuse as opposed to recycling (Sony VGN-FW11S Battery) ."
Guiyu in the Shantou region of China, Delhi and Bangalore in India as well as the Agbogbloshie site near Accra, Ghana have electronic waste processing areas. Uncontrolled burning, disassembly, and disposal can cause a variety of environmental problems such as groundwater contamination, atmospheric pollution, or even water pollution either by immediate discharge or due tosurface runoff (especially near coastal areas), as well as health problems including occupational safety and health effects among those directly involved, due to the methods of processing the waste (Sony VGP-BPS13A/B Battery) .
Thousands of men, women, and children are employed in highly polluting, primitive recycling technologies, extracting the metals, toners, and plastics from computers and other electronic waste. Recent studies show that 7 out of 10 children in this region have too much lead in their blood (Sony VGP-BPS13B/B Battery) .
Proponents of the trade say growth of internet access is a stronger correlation to trade than poverty. Haiti is poor and closer to the port of New York than southeast Asia, but far more electronic waste is exported from New York to Asia than to Haiti. Thousands of men, women, and children are employed in reuse, refurbishing, repair, and remanufacturing, sustainable industries in decline in developed countries. It is held that denying developing nations access to used electronics denies them affordable products and internet access (Toshiba Satellite P10 Battery) .
Opponents of the trade argue that developing countries utilize methods that are more harmful and 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 andfurans. Bonfire refuse can be disposed of quickly into drainage ditches or waterways feeding the ocean or local water supplies (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ210CE Battery) .
In June 2008, a container of electronic waste, destined from the Port of Oakland in the U.S. to Sanshui District in mainland China, was intercepted in Hong Kong by Greenpeace. Concern over exports of electronic waste were raised in press reports in India,Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ38M Battery) .
Computer monitors are typically packed into low stacks on wooden pallets forrecycling and then shrink-wrapped.
See also: Computer recycling
Today the electronic waste recycling business is in all areas of the developed world a large and rapidly consolidating business (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31z Battery) .
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 energy-intensive downcycling processes (e.g., conventional recycling), where equipment is reverted to a raw material form (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31E Battery) .
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 (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31J Battery) .
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.
One of the major challenges is recycling the printed circuit boards from the electronic wastes (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31M Battery) .
The circuit boards contain such precious metals as gold, silver, platinum, etc. and such base metals as copper, iron, aluminum, etc. Conventional method employed is mechanical shredding and separation but the recycling efficiency is low. Alternative methods such as cryogenic decomposition have been studied for printed circuit board recycling, and some other methods are still under investigation (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31B Battery) .
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 (SONY VGP-BPS13 Battery) ?. 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 (Dell Precision M70 Battery) .
- The Electronics TakeBack 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 (Acer Aspire One battery) . It provides recommendations for consumer recycling and a list of recyclers judged environmentally responsible.
- The grassroots Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (svtc.org) focuses on promoting human health and addresses environmental justice problems resulting from toxins in technologies.
- Basel Action Network (BAN.org) is uniquely focused on addressing global environmental injustices and economic inefficiency of global "toxic trade" (Toshiba Satellite L305 Battery) . 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.
- Texas Campaign for the Environment (texasenvironment.org) works to build grassroots support for e-waste recycling and uses community organizing to pressure electronics manufacturers and elected officials to enact producer takeback recycling policies and commit to responsible recycling programs (Toshiba Satellite M65 battery) .
- The World Reuse, Repair, and Recycling Association (wr3a.org) is an organization dedicated to improving the quality of exported electronics, encouraging better recycling standards in importing countries, and improving practices through "Fair Trade" principles.
- Take Back My TV is a project of The Electronics TakeBack Coalition and grades television manufacturers to find out which are responsible and which are not (Toshiba Satellite T4900 Battery) .
Recycling the lead from batteries.
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. The advantages of this process are the human's ability to recognize and save working and repairable parts, including chips, transistors, RAM, etc. The disadvantage is that the labor is often cheapest in countries with the lowest health and safety standards (Toshiba PA3399U-2BRS battery) .
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 (Dell Latitude E6400 battery) .
Magnets, eddy currents, and trommel screens are employed to separate glass, plastic, and ferrous and nonferrous metals, which can then be further separated at a 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 (Toshiba Satellite A200 Battery) .
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 (Toshiba Satellite 1200 Battery) ."
An ideal electronic waste recycling plant combines dismantling for component recovery with increased cost-effective processing of bulk electronic waste.
Reuse is an option to recycling because it extends the lifespan of a device. Devices still need eventual recycling, but by allowing others to purchase used electronics, recycling can be postponed and value gained from device use (Toshiba NB100 Battery) .
Benefits of Recycling
Recycling raw materials from end-of-life electronics is the most effective solution to the growing e-waste problem. Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials, including metals that can be recovered for future uses. By dismantling and providing reuse possibilities, intact natural resources are conserved and air and water pollution caused by hazardous disposal is avoided (Toshiba Satellite M300 Battery) .
Additionally, recycling reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacturing of new products. It simply makes good sense and is efficient to recycle and to do our part to keep the environment green.
Electronic waste substances
Several sizes of button and coin cell with 2 9v batteries as a size comparison (Dell INSPIRON 1525 battery) .
Enlarge to see the button and coin cells’ size code markings. They are all recyclable in both the UK andIreland since they contain toxic metals like lead, mercury and cadmium.
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 (Dell Inspiron Mini 10 Battery) .
Substances found in large quantities include epoxy resins, fiberglass, PCBs, PVC (polyvinyl chlorides), thermosetting plastics, lead, tin, copper, silicon,beryllium, carbon, iron and aluminium.
Elements found in small amounts include cadmium, mercury, and thallium.
Elements found in trace amounts include americium, antimony, arsenic, barium, bismuth, boron, cobalt, europium, gallium, germanium, gold, indium, lithium,manganese, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, selenium, silver, tantalum, terbium, thorium, titanium, vanadium, and yttrium (Dell Latitude D830 Battery) .
Almost all electronics contain lead and tin (as solder) and copper (as wire and printed circuit board tracks), though the use of lead-free solder is now spreading rapidly. The following are ordinary applications:
- Americium: smoke alarms (radioactive source) (Dell Studio 1735 Battery) .
- Mercury: fluorescent tubes (numerous applications), tilt switches (pinball games, mechanical doorbells, thermostats). There are no liquid mercury switches in ordinary computers, and the elimination of mercury batteries in many new-model computers is taking place.
- Sulphur: lead-acid batteries.
- PCBs: prior to ban, almost all 1930s–1970s equipment, including capacitors, transformers, wiring insulation, paints, inks, and flexible sealants (Dell Latitude D620 Battery) .
- PBBs: used after the ban to replace PCBs. Also used as flame retardant.
- Cadmium: light-sensitive resistors, corrosion-resistant alloys for marine and aviation environments, nickel-cadmium batteries.
- Lead: 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 (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ150E Battery) .
- Beryllium oxide: filler in some thermal interface materials such as thermal grease used on heatsinks for CPUs and power transistors, magnetrons, X-ray-transparent ceramic windows, heat transfer fins in vacuum tubes, and gas lasers.
- Polyvinyl chloride Third most widely produced plastic, contains additional chemicals to change the chemical consistency of the product (Dell Studio 1555 Battery) . Some of these additional chemicals called additives can leach out of vinyl products. Plasticizers that must be added to make PVC flexible have been additives of particular concern
- Tin: solder, coatings on component leads.
- Copper: copper wire, printed circuit board tracks, component leads (Dell Latitude D610 Battery) .
- Aluminium: nearly all electronic goods using more than a few watts of power (heatsinks), electrolytic capacitors.
- Iron: steel chassis, cases, and fixings.
- Germanium: 1950s–1960s transistorized electronics (bipolar junction transistors).
- Silicon: glass, transistors, ICs, printed circuit boards (Dell Inspiron 300M Battery) .
- Nickel: nickel-cadmium batteries.
- Lithium: lithium-ion batteries.
- Zinc: plating for steel parts.
- Gold: connector plating, primarily in computer equipment (Dell RM791 battery) .