Nazmunnaher Nipa & Touhidur Rahman Tuhin
Electronic waste refers to all electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its part that have been discarded as waste by their owner with no intention of re-use. Today, e-waste is one of the fastest growing solid waste streams. According to a European Union study, e-waste is growing at a rate of 3.0 – 5.0 percent per year, or roughly three times faster than other individual waste streams in the solid waste sector. The rapid adoption of information technology around the world, combined with the regular introduction of new design and technology in the electronics sector, is causing the early obsolescence of many electronic items used today.
Imports of electrical and electronic equipment, the government, public and private sectors discards secondary markets for old PCs and phones, and individual households are the primary sources of e-waste generation. Almost 90% of e-waste falls into one of three categories. Several trends are causing an increase in the amount of e-waste. The global information society is rapidly expanding. It is distinguished by an increasing number of users and rapid technological advancements that drive innovation, efficiency and social and economic development.
E-waste has increased the total waste volume and after dismantling, it emits a variety of toxic and carcinogenic gases and metals that endanger human health and pollute the environment. Chemically and physically, e-waste differs from urban or industrial waste. It contains both dangerous and valuable materials that necessitate special handling and recycling practices in order to avoid negative environmental and human health consequences.
Bangladesh, in line with global trends and due to its ongoing rapid growth, is increasingly utilizing electronics-based appliances, equipment and tools in people’s homes, offices, industrial units, vehicles and communication systems. This has resulted in a corresponding increase in the rate of e-waste generation.
In our country, the informal sector recycles a very small amount of used electrical goods, while the rest is dumped in landfills, rivers, ponds, drains, lakes, channels and open spaces. Improper recycling and recovery methods can have serious environmental consequences. Toxic emissions from crude forms of dismantling frequently pollute the environment and expose workers and the general public to hazardous materials.
Inadequate e-waste recycling produces significant hazardous emissions, which have serious consequences for health and the environment. The occupational health risks posed to e-waste collectors and handlers, as well as the community health risks posed to the surrounding community, are all associated with the informal recycling process. In Bangladesh, e-waste handling, dismantling, and recycling are carried out in a rudimentary manner in the informal sector, with no safety measures in place. As a result, workers are directly exposed to the risk of health hazards, while the general public is indirectly exposed to the risk of environmental (air, water, and soil) pollution as a result of improper e-waste management and disposal. The informal sector in Bangladesh, primarily in Dhaka, engages in open burning of wires/cables to recover copper. This burning activity emits harmful toxic compounds such as dioxin and furan and contributes to air pollution.
Aside from recovery and recycling, a significant amount of e-waste is mixed with domestic solid waste and disposed of in landfills. Weathering and chemical reactions accelerate the leaching of hazardous elements from e-waste, releasing them into the air, water, and soil, posing a serious threat to the environment. Atmospheric pollution caused by open burning and demolition activities endangers the surrounding community as well as remote areas. Because contaminants can accumulate in aquatic life, agricultural lands, poultry, and livestock, environmental pollution is a significant source of food chain contamination.
The vast majority of e-waste is disposed of in (sanitary) landfills. The use of the appropriate test, in this case, the TCLP (Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure) revealed that e-waste discarded at urban waste dumping sites does not produce leachates with heavy metal concentrations exceeding environmental limits. Furthermore, the common management practice of compressing e-waste before or during disposal in landfills may increase leachate volumes due to the disruption of the various electronic circuit parts; as a result, it is proposed to perform cement solidification on e-waste, which increases pH and decreases the flow of aqueous solutions in the waste discarded.
When electronic waste is disposed of or recycled without proper precautions, it has a negative impact on the environment and human health. It has been discovered that e waste contains over 1000 substances, many of which are toxic and harmful elements like lead, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, chromium, and so on. E waste enters the environment in a variety of ways, polluting the air, water, and soil.
In developing countries such as Bangladesh, approximately 20-30% of total e waste is recycled, while the remaining 70-80% of e waste is disposed of in landfills. It has been reported that e waste accounts for approximately 40% of the heavy metals found in landfills.
The government has already prepared a National 3R (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) Strategy that addresses e-waste issues. Under the policy direction of the Government, the Department of Environment (DoE) has undertaken various programs and projects to take this further towards fulfilling Bangladesh’s commitment to the international community and achieving the stated targets of the SDG campaign. This current study is part of the DoE’s initiative.
Electronics and electrical devices appear to be efficient and environmentally friendly, but there are hidden dangers associated with them when they become E-waste. The perilous nature of E-waste is one of the world’s rapidly growing environmental issues. The ever-increasing volume of E-waste, combined with a lack of attention and appropriate expertise, is exacerbating the problem. Educating people at all levels on how to recycle, reuse, and dispose of electronics will teach them and their communities how to be more environmentally responsible.
Indeed, electronic waste is a global issue that necessitates a global solution. As a result, there is an urgent need for proper waste management, as well as efficient recycling methods and appropriate dumping sites, so that it does not contaminate underground water and soil.
Authors is an Executive Editor
The Environment Review