Saturday, September 30, 2023

Sustainability 101 – Managing E-waste | QNET Knowledge Series

Electronic waste, also known as e-waste is a highly concerning, massive global problem. E-waste comprises of discarded electrical or electronic devices. Improper disposal and processing of this waste can potentially lead to significant adverse human and environmental damages. It is estimated that the number of mobile phones has exceeded the number of people in the world. Add to it, our tendency to simply throw away older products and consistently buy new ones, leading to our current global e-waste problem. Our growing attachment to electronic devices, without which we are unable to lead our modern lives, come with an expiry date; they are not built to last forever. A time comes when they inevitably lose their value and we enter a vicious cycle of replacing them with new ones. It is sad that humans do not realise the vicious impact of continuous exposure to mobile radiation, laptops etc. We need to be responsible and set an example for generations to come!

What is in e-waste?

Electronic devices comprise of a number of toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium, mercury and beryllium, polluting PVC plastic and hazardous chemicals like brominated flame retardants, that can prove to be harmful both for humans and the environment. Most of it are dumped in landfills where toxic chemicals leach from the e-waste and contaminate the soil, water supply, crops growing on that land and the animals who are eating it as well.

When e-waste is heated or burnt, it emits highly toxic gases which get released in the atmosphere creating ozone layer depletion and breathing difficulties.

Electronic devices are also made of a complex mix of valuable materials like gold, silver, platinum, copper, palladium, lithium, cobalt and others. These precious metals can be reclaimed via recycling.

How to reduce e-waste

Disposal of e-waste

The very first thing to do is to NOT discard your e-waste in the trash along with your other waste. Disposal of electronics should be done separately; do a quick research and drop off your e-waste at proper facilities. Some facilities even have pick up services for larger electronic waste. Other than that, you can follow the following steps –

1. Repair – Make it a habit to only throw your gadget as a very last option. Instead of quickly deciding to buy a new gadget, find out if your current gadget can be repaired. Most likely you can get them fixed. Additionally, it is also a life skill that you can pick up. You can look for nearby workshops and get enrolled. Alternatively, you can also binge on YouTube videos that teach you how to fix a broken laptop or phone screen replacement all by yourself. With a little bit of time and patience, you can master the process. Being able to fix a gadget is rather cool, and if you can do it, there is nothing like it.

2. Go for second-hand gadgets – Whenever possible, buy second-hand. Most times, they will work as good as a newly bought product. You can research and get good leads on second-hand products nearby. You can also discover a genre of people who choose to invest in second-hand products over new ones. Many popular e-commerce sites have joined the movement in selling unbox and refurbished products that often come cheaper.

3. Buy environmentally friendly gadgets – While they may not come cheap, investing in eco-friendly electronics is a much-needed way to follow. They are usually also more energy-efficient that will lead to savings in the long run. Read the product descriptions in depth and find out which products are made of upcycled material, which products can be recycled easily etc. Click here to see some great examples of eco-friendly gadgets.

4. Recycle – If your electronics cannot be salvaged at all, which of course is bound to happen at some point in time, take your electronics to a recycling facility where parts can be disassembled properly and recycled. It is always a better idea to let professionals handle this, since improper treatment may result in toxic emissions. Many branded electronics outlets in India collect e-waste for recycling. Some companies like Croma plant trees in the name of customers who have availed their e-waste recycling facilities.

5. Re-evaluate – Whenever you are in a situation which may prompt you to buy a new gadget, ask yourself this one question – do you need it or want it? Once you answer that question honestly – go ahead and do what should be done. If the compulsion is only based on a want, you can take a practical decision of not buying it. Imagine all the help you will be doing to the environment. A single step in the right direction will let us be more mindful of e-waste.

Let us all try and lead a less toxic life, stop abusing our own environment, be kind to ourselves and be more responsible. The sooner we realise that mismanaging e-waste can be a disaster, the better for the society and our nation.

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