Managing E-Waste – Green IT

Electronic (E-) waste is a rapidly growing environmental problem across the globe. In India, the e-waste management assumes greater significance not only due to the generation of our own waste but also dumping of E-waste, particularly computer waste, from developed countries. With high extensity of using computers and electronic equipment and people dumping old electronic goods for new ones, the amount of E-waste generated has been steadily increasing. At present, Bangalore alone generates about 8000 ton of computer waste annually, and in the absence of proper disposal, they find their way to scrap dealers. According to a new report from the United Nations, large amounts of e-waste would end up in developing countries by 2015. The report estimates a 500% growth over the next 10 years in computer waste in India alone. Now that is some frightening news.

E-waste is a name commonly used for electronic products that get damaged or redundant, and cannot be used. It is considered dangerous as most components of electronic products contain materials that are hazardous and even toxic to the environment and to us. Discarded computers, televisions, CD players, copiers, fax machines, electric lamps, mobile phones, and batteries if improperly disposed leak lead and other toxic chemicals – such as chlorinated and 'brominated' substances, toxic gases, toxic metals, biologically active materials, acids, plastics and plastic additives – into the soil and groundwater. Many of these products can be recycled or refurbished so that they are less harmful to the ecosystem. However, most companies ignore the e-waste they produce, and with the IT and electronics industry growing rapidly, e-waste management will soon become a global nightmare of terrifying proportions.

Management of e-waste should begin at the point of generation, by adopting:

  • Inventory management - Proper control over the materials used in the manufacturing process by reducing both the quantity of hazardous materials used in the process and the amount of excess raw materials in stock
  • Production-process modification - Changes can be made in the production process by changing the materials used to make the product or by the more efficient use of input materials in the production process or both
  • Volume reduction - Volume reduction includes those techniques that remove the hazardous portion of a waste from a non-hazardous portion, and can cut the cost of disposing of a waste material.
  • Recovery and reuse - This technique could eliminate waste disposal costs and reduce raw material costs. Waste can be recovered on-site, or at an off-site recovery facility, or through inter industry exchange.
  • Sustainable product design - Minimization of hazardous wastes should be at the product design stage itself by re-thinking the product design, using renewable materials and energy, and using safer non-renewable materials.

It is important to adopt intelligent practices to handle increasing bulk e-wastes. Here's what the government and manufacturers can do to help:

Responsibilities of the Government

  • Governments should set up regulatory agencies which own the responsibility of co-coordinating and consolidating the regulatory functions of the various government authorities regarding hazardous substances.
  • Governments should be responsible for providing an adequate system of laws, controls and administrative procedures for hazardous waste management.
  • They must encourage research into the development and standard of hazardous waste management, environmental monitoring and the regulation of hazardous waste-disposal.
  • Governments should enforce strict regulations against dumping e-waste in the country by outsiders.
  • They should enforce strict regulations and heavy fines levied on industries, which do not practice waste prevention and recovery in their factories.

Responsibilities of Manufacturers

  • Generators of wastes should take responsibility to determine the output characteristics of e-wastes.
  • All personnel involved in handling e-waste in industries including those at the policy, management, control and operational levels, should be properly qualified and trained.
  • Companies should adopt waste minimization techniques at the source
  • Manufacturers and retailers should undertake the responsibility of recycling/disposal of their own products.
  • Manufacturers of computer monitors, television sets and other electronic devices containing hazardous materials must be responsible for educating consumers and the general public regarding the potential threat to public health and the environment posed by their products.

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