The world is advancing by leaps and bounds towards a society that is gradually more technician, in which technology is increasingly democratic and its use is widespread globally. Technological advances carry a multitude of advantages, but they also carry a series of disadvantages and risks. Among them, the urgent need to improve the management of electronic waste stands out.

Electronic devices make our lives easier, which is why their use is so widespread. Their progressive price reduction has meant that even in poor countries there is such an abundance of these instruments that their residues constitute an ever-greater global problem. Another factor to consider is that nowadays electrical appliances and electronic devices in general last less, due to planned obsolescence, and are not usually repaired, since their repair involves a higher cost than replacing them with a new one.

To give an illustrative example, we can mention that, according to data from the sector, in India every year no less than 25,000 tons of office automation products, 1,500 tons of mobile phones and just over 10,000 tons of batteries are sold.

The United Nations Office for Industrial Development (UNIDO) estimated that more than 40 million tons of electronic waste are generated annually in the world. In fact, in 2014, 42 million tons were recorded, while last year its volume reached 65.4 million tons.

As we can see, the trend is growing. This same organization states that developing countries are about to exceed the electronic waste rates of industrialized ones. In countries such as India and China, it is estimated that garbage generated only by disused computers will increase by 500% in the next decade.

Source of Contamination

Given these data, finding solutions to optimize the management of this waste becomes essential. Electronic waste is considered to be all that waste from electronic or electrical devices, which frequently contain highly toxic substances that can harm the environment and health. It is waste with a high pollutant level that constitutes a very serious threat, since it can contain heavy metals and other substances that can pollute the water.

Sometimes we do not realize the contaminating potential of these devices. For example, a poorly recycled refrigerator pollutes the atmosphere with greenhouse gas effects equivalent to the emissions of a car on a 15,000-kilometer journey; and the phosphorus present in a normal television is capable of contaminating up to 80,000 liters of water.

Practical Solutions

With regard to household appliances and electronic devices, the method to minimize their environmental impact is the same as in the case of other materials.

On the one hand, you need to reduce your consumption. As consumers we can ask ourselves if we really need a new appliance or if perhaps we can extend the useful life of the ones we use. Before changing it for a new one, let’s reflect on whether the one we currently have meets our needs and if we really need another one that possibly has many functions that we will never use.

Another strategy is to reuse these devices. That an electrical appliance is not worth us does not mean that it does not have other potential users. Going to second-hand stores, donating electronic devices to friends and family or to NGOs are also actions that help to avoid electronic waste.

Also recycling is a suitable option. When the product no longer works and there is no possibility of being used by someone close, we must recycle it. For this, we can go to the same stores in which we buy the new appliance that supplies it, since by law they are obliged to pick up the old one, regardless of the make or model. In India, in addition to the points of sale, household appliances and electronic devices can be deposited in clean points or #green shops, on this map you can see the network of Collection Points for electronic devices throughout the territory.

In fact, distributors have to temporarily store the appliances when it becomes waste and the user purchases a new product that is of an equivalent type or performs the same functions as the appliance that is discarded.

According to the visionary legislation, E-Waste Management and Electronic Equipment, producers are obliged to identify these devices with electronic reading labels to guarantee their traceability. In this way, with its gradual implementation, the management of waste, its collection, storage, and management will be optimized, being able to identify the waste either by individual labels or by labeling the containers in which they are preserved.

In fact, distributors are required by law to temporarily store the equipment when it becomes waste and the user purchases a new product that is of an equivalent type or performs the same functions as the equipment that is discarded.

The recycling of these devices is an efficient option, since less energy is spent in extracting the components and less waste is generated (up to 98% less, according to studies) than when they are extracted from nature through mining operations. Most of the components of electronic devices can be separated by mechanical means and it is estimated that 70% of each device can be transformed into usable raw materials.

There are also cases where electronic devices can be repaired. Through remanufacturing, the parts that can be reused from household appliances and appliances are used to build new machines and accessories, achieving financial savings. Thus, new lines of business are developed through the viability of recycling devices and components withdrawn from the market.

Economic and Employment Opportunity

There is a growing industry based on the principles of the Circular Economy, on recycling and the use of products. For this, the business fabric dedicated to these areas is exerting an effort in projects that introduce elements of robotization or Industry 4.0. Innovation is one of the factors that allow this sector to be profitable, to employ an increasing number of workers, and its impact on the conservation of the environment to be significant.

That is why it is important to monitor the proper treatment of waste from electronic equipment and household appliances, and that citizens are clear about the procedure they must follow to deposit them safely and, in this way, make sure that they are going to be managed in an effective and optimal, without risk to the environment, health, or involving illegal waste collection circuits. Often these submerged economy schemes pose an ecological and human health risk, in addition to constituting an illegal and unfair competition for companies engaged in the appropriate channels to manage this type of waste.