Electronic waste or E-waste, for short, is one of the fastest-growing domestic waste streams. Every year the world’s population dumps millions of tons of E-waste. Most of this waste ends up in landfills and scrap yards; a lot of it is not disposed of correctly or safely. The growing E-waste pile is becoming a global concern in a word that is now focused on energy and environmental sustainability.
The Problem with E-waste
The biggest concern over the improper disposal of E-waste is its adverse effect on the soil and groundwater. E-waste dumped in landfills leaks heavy metals and other toxic minerals that slowly percolate below the topsoil contaminating various layers along the way. Once the contaminated ground is exposed to precipitation such as heavy rain, the runoff water carries the contaminated silt downstream where it pollutes the surface and sub-surface water bodies. Some of the most common E-waste contaminants include lead, copper, chromium, mercury, and cadmium.
The polluted water becomes harmful to the ecosystem, which includes wildlife and humans. Heavily contaminated soil loses its fertility, which renders the land unsuitable for supporting vegetation, both agricultural and wild.
Solving the E-waste Problem
E-waste is unlike any other type of waste, and the problem is that it’s being generated faster than it can be disposed of. Such a big problem requires some radical waste management solutions. Traditional disposal methods such as incineration, burying, and scraping simply aren’t cutting it.
Burning E-waste material in open-air produces toxic fumes that pollute the surrounding air and may even lead to acidic rain. Plus, burning barely gets the job done because some of the materials such as silicon require a very high temperature to burn. The only solution when it comes to burning is enclosed incineration. First, the E-waste is crushed and ground after some of the recyclable or reusable material, such as precious metals and certain plastics, are removed. Then, the pile is fed into an enclosed furnace where everything is burnt to ash, and the exhaust fumes are controlled.
Another solution to managing E-waste is reducing the generation of E-waste in the first place. Some of the electronics that organizations and households throw out still have a bit of life left in them. Some electronics can be remarketed or donated to institutions or individuals who might find productive uses for them. Some leading electronic manufacturers and third-party vendors refurbish old computers, phones, laptops, and household appliances and resell them on the second-hand market or donate them to schools, hospitals, and welfare organizations.