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The New Environmental Problem of the Digitized World: E-Waste


Writer: Enes Veysel Ugur



Digital devices day by day gain importance since they are the main devices we spend time with. Nowadays, people utilize technological devices for quite everything human imagination may dream of. While many inventions are not changing too fast, most of the technological devices are getting outperformed one another. This mostly result as in creating more waste as people would like to get the latest device on the market. But what happens to this garbage? According to the data of the United Nations' 2020 Global E-Waste Monitoring Report we produce 7.3 kg of electronic waste per person every year[Globalewaste,(n.d)]. The amount of e-waste is increasing every year due to the increase in the production of electronic devices, the shortening of their useful life, and the high repair costs. The amount of e-waste, which was 44.4 megatons in 2014, is expected to increase to 74.7 megatons in 2030[Perkins,2014]. So how should we deal with this waste: keep or throw it away?


When our electronic devices get old or break down, we usually prefer to keep them for a few years. However, as time goes on, the value of old devices decreases very quickly, and since the technologies used in the production of these devices are constantly changing, it becomes difficult to recycle them. Therefore, it is crucial to throw electronic devices that we no longer use into the recycling bins as soon as possible. Also, e-waste contains precious metals such as gold, palladium, silver, copper, and aluminum. The value of these substances in e-waste is approximately 57 billion dollars [Perkins,2014]. E-waste also contains many rare elements, which is why they are also called mines in cities. So, how is E-Waste recycled?


Electronic devices consist of different components such as a battery, circuit board, cathode ray tube, and plastic case. For example, 49% of e-waste by mass is metals, 33% is plastic materials, and 12% is cathode ray tubes[Kang,2005]. For this reason, e-waste needs to be recycled or destroyed in different ways. In the recycling process of e-waste, it is first determined whether the device or the parts in it can be reused. After the components that can be reused are determined, those that need to be recycled are separated into small pieces. Then, ferromagnetic metals, non-ferromagnetic metals, and plastic components in e-waste are separated from the remaining parts, respectively. These materials are converted into the final product by using recycling methods according to their types.


Simply reusing materials like metal and plastic from old phones, rather than finding and processing new ones, would save as much energy as cutting off 24,000 US homes for a year [Harvard,2021]. In most cases, an average family has around 24 electronic devices in their home, and a study conducted by the EPA in the USA alone states that 2.37 million tons of electronic garbage is ready for disposal, which could fill 5 football fields with that much garbage.


There are many ways to cope with the e-waste problem individually. For instance, we can protect our environment from electronic mess by behaving differently, such as prolonging the life of our electronics, reusing them, buying environmentally friendly electronics, throwing batteries in their own special recycling bins, and donating our old devices to social programs.


In conclusion, to ensure that electronic devices that make our lives easier do not pose a danger to the environment and living creatures when they complete their useful life, important duties fall on us, as individual users, and on institutions that have to carry out infrastructure works related to the recycling of e-waste.





Sources:

1.Kang, H.Y., Schoenung, J. M., “Electronic waste recycling: A review of U.S. infrastructure and technology options'', Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Cilt 45, Sayı 4, s. 368-400, 2005.

2.Perkins, D. N. ve ark., “E-Waste: A Global Hazard”, Annals of Global Health, Cilt 80, Sayı 4, s. 286-295, 2014.

3.Globalewaste. (n.d.).E-Waste. https://globalewaste.org

3.Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME) (2003) An Analysis of Plastics Consumption and Recovery in Europe. APME, Brussels, Belgium

4.Harvard. (2021, April 12). 6 ways to minimize your E-waste. Sustainability at Harvard. https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/how/6-ways-minimize-your-e-waste









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