E-waste or electronic waste is waste material created by rejected electronic devices and components as well as materials involved in their manufacture or use. Although e-waste is a generic term, it cover televisions, computers, mobile phones, white goods such as fridges, washing machines, toys, tablets, digital cameras, dryers, home entertainment systems, stereo systems, toasters, kettles – almost any household or business item with circuitry or electrical components with power or battery supply. E-waste is mounting exponentially since manufacture of electronic products are growing rapidly in many parts of the world due to inclination of people towards technology and electronic gadgets.
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The growing market penetration in developing countries, replacement market in developed countries and a high undesirability rate make e-waste one of the fastest waste streams. This form of waste is posing a serious concern in disposal and recycling to both developing and developed countries. E-waste can be used as a resource that contains useful material for economic benefit in recovery of plastic, iron, glass, aluminium, copper and other precious metals such as silver, gold, platinum and palladium, and lead, cadmium, mercury etc. However, some components contain toxic substances which adversely affect human health and environment, increasing land, air and water pollution. Few toxic chemicals widely used are lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, BFR, polyvinyl chloride and phosphor compounds, polychlorinated bi-phenyls (PCBs), etched chemicals, and arsenic and flame retardants. Vain and incompetent waste management results in greenhouse gas and toxic emissions, and the loss of precious materials and resources.
One of the main reasons for growth of e-waste is rapid product innovation, especially in electronics and home appliances like migration from analogue to digital technologies and to flat-screen televisions and monitors. Additionally, economic growth coupled with urbanization and industrialization, and mass production of electronic goods have led to price reduction of these goods, almost doubling the universal demand for such products which eventually turn into e-waste. According to the UN, more than 33% increase in electronic waste is expected in the coming four years.
Major regions across the globe generating e-waste is the United States, followed by Europe and Asia-Pacific. The average e-waste produced by the U.S. in 2012 was estimated to be about 29 kg per person. The lowest e-waste producing countries were Haiti, which generated less than 8,000 tonnes of waste in 2012, followed by Afghanistan.
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Many IT and electronic goods manufacturing companies like Dell, Cisco, HP as well as multiple agencies from Switzerland, Egypt, England, China, Japan and others have joined hands with StEP (Solving the E-waste Problem), a global organization for improving e-waste disposal methods. Various other measures are being adopted to minimize e-waste, including technical intervention like product design, production process modification, use of renewable material and energy, and green packaging option. Then there is the policy-level intervention which clearly defines e-waste for regulation. It includes a take back policy wherein producers are responsible for the complete lifecycle of their products. Lastly, awareness building measures are taken where citizens can get to know what necessary steps they need to follow in order to avoid e-waste, like donating electronics for reuse which could extend the lives of the electronic products, opting for products which are made of less toxic material and use minimal packaging, and offer leasing or take back options.