Home > Environmental studies essays > Consequences of electronic waste (e-waste)

Essay: Consequences of electronic waste (e-waste)

Essay details and download:

  • Subject area(s): Environmental studies essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published: 10 October 2019*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 882 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

Text preview of this essay:

This page of the essay has 882 words. Download the full version above.

Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, consists of discarded electronic devices, of which computers and mobile phones are extremely abundant due to their short lifespan. Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) comprises of eight percent of municipal waste and is one of the fastest growing waste divisions. The current global production of e-waste is estimated to be twenty to twenty-five million tons per year, with most e-waste being produced in Europe and the United States. China and Africa are major e-waste producers, as well. As little as twenty-five percent of e-waste is recycled in formal recycling centers with adequate worker protection (8). This is because effective reprocessing technology, which recovers the valuable materials with minimal environmental impact, is expensive. Illegal import and informal burning or recycling of electronic waste in uncontrolled environments are two emerging issues in developing countries around the world. This is due to a majority of electronic waste being discarded in ‘electronic graveyards’ or informal recycling sites located in developing countries. Also, the volumes of e-waste being generated are increasing.

E-waste contains valuable metals as well as potential environmental contaminants, especially Pb, Hg, Ni, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Open burning of this e-waste in informal recycling sites or ‘graveyards’ may generate dioxins, as well as, release those various metals and contaminants into the environment.

One site in particular, a twenty-acre e-waste recycling site located in Agbogbloshie in Ghana, Africa, has received the attention of scientists interested in the harmful effects of the open burning of e-waste on humans, as well as the environment. Dioxin concentrations in open burning areas in Agbogbloshie were among the highest reported in soils from informal e-waste sites.

Scientists discovered this by collecting surface soil samples from Agbogbloshie and then testing the concentration of dioxins in the soil samples. Not only did they find metals present in the soil, however, they also discovered that the median total of dioxins had a toxic equivalent concentration in open burning soils was seven times higher than the U.S. action level. People living in Agbogbloshie are potentially exposed to high levels of DRCs, and human health implications need to be assessed in future studies.

It has also been found that lead concentrations in e-waste recycling sites are more than two hundred times the United States regulatory limits for municipal waste combustors. Leaching tests of the residual bottom ash in an informal recycling site showed that lead concentrations exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency landfill limits, causing this ash to be designated as hazardous waste (4, Characterization). This means that humans and animals living in areas near ‘electronic graveyards’ are exposed to an extremely high level of toxins every day. Also, another conclusion that can be drawn from these results is that these informal electronic recycling sites are polluting the surrounding environment.

Dioxins do not easily biodegrade and therefore are present in the environment and existing bodies, in which they accumulate, for a long time. These dioxin pollutants have a half-life of about seven years in the human body. While it is known dioxins are toxic to humans and the environment there is little research on exactly how dioxins from informal e-waste sites effect humans and the environment. However, the most toxic dioxin, TCDD or tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, is known to cause cancer among people exposed to it. This toxic dioxin is the only dioxin classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “carcinogenic to humans”. Also, PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers are a flame retardant found in electronics. When electronics are burned the PBDEs are released and can cause health effects on humans. One effect of exposure to PBDEs is a reduction in fertility. Fertility reduction can be seen when PBDEs are present in the household. Now, there are many more PBDEs being released by the burning of e-waste in recycling sites than in the household. Imagine the effect these PBDEs have on workers and inhabitants in and around informal e-waste recycling sites.

The Basel Convention has identified e-waste as hazardous due to high toxicity. It has also developed a framework for controls on transboundary movement of such waste. The Basel Ban, an amendment to the Basel Convention, would go one step further by prohibiting the export of e-waste from developed to developing countries, however it has not yet taken effect. Consequently, although illegal under the Basel Convention, developed countries still export a high quantity of e-waste to poor countries, where recycling techniques include burning and dissolution in strong acids with few measures to protect human health and the environment.

The development of more efficient cloud computing networks, where computing services are delivered over the internet from remote locations, and the production of smaller devices may offset the increase in e-waste production. Also, the chemical composition of e-waste changes with the development of new technologies and pressure from environmental organizations on electronics companies to find alternatives to environmentally damaging materials.

Overall, illegal reprocessing of e-waste results in dangerous localized contamination followed by movement of the contaminants into receiving waters and food chains. E-waste workers suffer negative health effects through skin contact and inhalation, while the wider community are exposed to the contaminants through smoke, dust, drinking water and food (6). There needs to be a risk assessment test for persons living in and around e-waste sites.

...(download the rest of the essay above)

About this essay:

If you use part of this page in your own work, you need to provide a citation, as follows:

Essay Sauce, Consequences of electronic waste (e-waste). Available from:<https://www.essaysauce.com/environmental-studies-essays/2017-11-19-1511056268/> [Accessed 17-07-24].

These Environmental studies essays have been submitted to us by students in order to help you with your studies.

* This essay may have been previously published on Essay.uk.com at an earlier date.