Producing and disposing of E Waste has many of the same problems as producing and disposing of batteries (and some e waste also contains batteries).
In this guide, we outline some of those e waste related problems.
Summary – What Environmental & Human Health Impacts Does Producing & Disposing Of E Waste Have?
E Waste comes in many types of items. But, something that all of these items have in common is that they contain batteries or other parts that contain potentially hazardous and harmful metals and chemicals.
These potentially harmful chemicals and metals can have an environmental and human health impact.
Some items might be more problematic or present more risk than others, such as cathode ray tubes, printed circuit boards, chips and gold plated components, plastics from printers, keyboards and monitors, and computer wires. Batteries can obviously contain certain chemicals too.
From an environmental aspect:
Mining of resources that go into making e waste items depletes those resources (which is not desirable from a sustainability perspective), but also causes different types of pollution and environmental degradation issues like land erosion, and water and air pollution
Disposing of e waste, which has a number of potentially hazardous chemicals and metals, pollutes air, water and soil – if not managed properly e.g. these chemicals can leach out from landfills into soil and water if landfills aren’t sealed properly
From a human health perspective:
Humans can ingest, inhale or come into contact with metals or chemicals like lead, mercury, sulfuric acid + more. Humans can drink contaminated water directly, or eat animals like fish that have been living in water polluted by e waste chemicals
What Is E Waste?
E-waste is any electrical or electronic item that needs a plug or a battery to work.
We are talking electrical/technology type items like TV’s, laptops and computers, home appliances, power tools and more.
More Information On The Environmental & Human Health Impact Of Production & Disposal Of E Waste
- [e waste] contains many toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium and lithium.
- In landfill, e-waste leaches these hazardous substances into the soil and water which can lead to health and environmental problems.
- Sending e-waste to landfill wastes non-renewable resources, including precious metals, glass and plastic.
Specifically with e waste, the following items and factors can present environmental and human health based risks and dangers during disposal or recycling processing (if they leach out, get into the air via emissions, get into water, contaminate soil, are ingested by or come into contact with wildlife):
- Cathode ray tubes (in TV’s, computer monitors etc.) – May contain lead, barium and other heavy metals
- Printed circuit boards – May contain glass dust, tin, lead, brominated dioxin, beryllium cadmium, and mercury
- Chips and other gold plated components – May contain PAHs, heavy metals, brominated flame retardants, tin and lead
- Plastics from printers, keyboards, monitors, etc. – May contain brominated dioxins, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons
- Computer wires – may contain PAHs
Solutions To Reducing The Environmental & Human Health Impact Of E Waste
Potential solutions to help address e waste problems for the environment and humans might be:
Better awareness and labelling of electronic items by manufacturers about whether they possess potentially hazardous material or not, and how to dispose of them. For example, some batteries contain very little or no mercury compared to others. Consumers and businesses that use electronic items need to know which items might be hazardous, and how to dispose of or recycle them properly
Reduce consumption rate of electronic items e.g. not just buying the new model of the iPhone everytime it comes out
Re-use and repair existing electronic items instead of throwing them out and getting new ones
Use electronic items with power outlet charging instead of, or to supplement battery power
Use electronic items with rechargeable batteries instead of single use batteries
Dispose of batteries in the right way when finished with them i.e. to a hazardous waste stream if your locality has one
Use electronic items and batteries that can be recycled
Have easily accessible recycling and waste disposal programs available for e waste like batteries
Manufacturers can design electronic items that have detachable parts that can be repaired or replaced or recycled, instead of having to replace an entire electronic unit or item