What is E-Waste

E-Waste or Electronic waste can be described as discarded electrical or electronic devices. Such E-Waste poses serious health and pollution problems as they may contain contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants.

Electronic waste may be defined as discarded computers, office electronic equipment, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, television sets and refrigerators. E-Waste includes used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal.

discarded computers, office electronic equipment, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, television sets and refrigerators

According to Dr S. Chatterjee, Scientist-E, Department of Information Technology, in his report Electronic Waste and India, the discarded and end-of-life electronics products ranging from computers, equipment used in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), home appliances, audio and video products and all of their peripherals are popularly known as Electronic waste (E-Waste).

There is, however, no standard or generally accepted definition of E-Waste in the world. In most cases, E-Waste comprises of the relatively expensive and essentially durable products used for data processing, telecommunications or entertainment in private households and businesses.

Many define "re-usables" (working and repairable electronics) and secondary scrap (copper, steel, plastic, etc.) to be "commodities", and reserve the term "waste" for the residue or material which is dumped by the buyer rather than recycled, including residue from reuse and recycling operations. Since loads of surplus electronics are frequently mixed (good, recyclable, and non-recyclable), several public policy advocates apply the term "E-Waste" broadly to all surplus electronics.

Components of E-Waste

Substances found in large quantities include epoxy resins, fiber glass, 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.

Almost all electronics contain lead and tin (as solder) and copper (as wire and printed circuit board tracks).

Health Hazards

Most E-Waste has the following chemicals that are hazardous to life:

E-Waste Found Health Hazard Caused
Americium radioactive source in smoke alarms Is known to be carcinogenic.
Mercury found in fluorescent tubes, tilt switches (mechanical doorbells, thermostats) and flat screen monitors Mercury causes sensory impairment, dermatitis, memory loss and muscle weakness. Environmental effects in animals include death, reduced fertility, slower growth and development.
Sulphur found in lead-acid batteries Health effects include liver damage, kidney damage, heart damage, eye and throat irritation. When released in to the environment, it can create sulphuric acid.
Arsenic   Disrupt cell communication and interfere with the triggers that cause cells to grow, possibly contributing to cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes if someone is exposed in chronic, low doses.
Cadmium   Affects your body's ability to metabolize calcium, leading to bone pain and severely weakened, fragile bones.
Chromium   Can cause skin irritation and rashes and is potentially carcinogenic.
Copper   Can irritate the throat and lungs and affect the liver, kidneys and other body systems.
Lead poisoning   Can cause a whole slew of health problems including the impairment of cognitive and verbal activity. Eventually, lead exposure can cause paralysis, coma and death.
Nickel   Is carcinogenic in large doses.
Silver   Probably won't hurt you, but handle it too frequently and you might come down with a case of argyria -- a condition that permanently stains your skin a blue-gray shade.
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