Electronic waste

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Defective and obsolete electronic equipment.

Electronic waste, e-waste, e-scrap, or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is a loose category of surplus, obsolete, broken, or discarded electrical or electronic devices. The processing of electronic waste in developing countries causes serious health and pollution problems due to lack of containment, as do unprotected landfilling (due to leaching) and incineration. The Basel Convention and regulation by the European Union and individual United States aim to reduce these problems. Reuse and computer recycling are promoted as alternatives to disposal as trash.

[edit] Definition

"Electronic waste" may be defined as all secondary computers, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, and other items such as TVs and refrigerators, whether sold, donated, or discarded by their original owners. This definition includes used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal. Others define the reusables (working and repairable electronics) and secondary scrap (copper, steel, plastic, etc.) to be "commodities", and reserve the term "waste" for residue or material which was represented as working or repairable but which is dumped or disposed or discarded by the buyer rather than recycled, including residue from reuse and recycling operations. Because loads of surplus electronics are frequently commingled (good, recyclable, and nonrecyclable), several public policy advocates apply the term "e-waste" broadly to all surplus electronics. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refers to obsolete computers under the term "hazardous household waste".[1]

Debate continues over the distinction between "commodity" and "waste" electronics definitions. Some exporters may deliberately leave difficult-to-spot obsolete or non-working equipment mixed in loads of working equipment (through ignorance, or to avoid more costly treatment processes). Protectionists may broaden the definition of "waste" electronics. The high value of the computer recycling subset of electronic waste (working and reusable laptops, computers, and components like RAM) can help pay the cost of transportation for a large number of worthless "commodities".

[edit] Problems

Rapid technology change, low initial cost, and even planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing surplus of electronic waste around the globe. Dave Kruch, CEO of Cash For Laptops, regards electronic waste as a "rapidly expanding" issue.[2] Technical solutions are available, but in most cases a legal framework, a collection system, logistics, and other services need to be implemented before a technical solution can be applied.

In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills comes from discarded electronics,[3] while electronic waste represents only 2% of America's trash in landfills.[4] The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that unwanted electronics totaled 2 million tons in 2005. Discarded electronics represented 5 to 6 times as much weight as recycled electronics.[2] The Consumer Electronics Association says that U.S. households spend an average of $1,400 annually on an average of 24 electronic items, leading to speculations of millions of tons of valuable metals sitting in desk drawers.[5][6] The U.S. National Safety Council estimates that 75% of all personal computers ever sold are now gathering dust as surplus electronics.[7] While some recycle, 7% of cellphone owners still throw away their old cellphones.[8]

Surplus electronics have extremely high cost differentials. A single repairable laptop can be worth hundreds of dollars, while an imploded cathode ray tube (CRT) is extremely difficult and expensive to recycle. This has created a difficult free-market economy. Large quantities of used electronics are typically sold to countries with very high repair capability and high raw material demand, which can result in high accumulations of residue in poor areas without strong environmental laws.[9] Trade in electronic waste is controlled by the Basel Convention. However, the Basel Convention specifically exempts repair and refurbishment of used electronics in Annex IX.

Electronic waste is of concern largely due to the toxicity and carcinogenicity of some of its substances, if processed improperly. Toxic substances in electronic waste may include lead, mercury, and cadmium. Carcinogenic substances in electronic waste may include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Capacitors, transformers, and wires insulated with or components coated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), manufactured before 1977, often contain dangerous amounts of PCBs.[10]

Up to 38 separate chemical elements are incorporated into electronic waste items. Many of the plastics used in electronic equipment contain flame retardants. These are generally halogens added to the plastic resin, making the plastics difficult to recycle. The unsustainability of discarding electronics and computer technology is another reason commending the need to recycle or to reuse electronic waste.

When materials cannot or will not be reused, conventional recycling or disposal via landfill often follow. Standards for both approaches vary widely by jurisdiction, whether in developed or developing countries. The complexity of the various items to be disposed of, the cost of environmentally approved recycling systems, and the need for concerned and concerted action to collect and systematically process equipment are challenges. One study indicates that two thirds of executives are unaware of fines related to environmental regulations.[11]

[edit] Controversy

Electronic waste is often exported to developing countries.

Increased regulation of electronic waste and concern over the environmental harm which can result from toxic electronic waste has raised disposal costs. The regulation creates an economic disincentive to remove residues prior to export. In extreme cases, brokers and others calling themselves recyclers export unscreened electronic waste to developing countries, avoiding the expense of removing items like bad cathode ray tubes (the processing of which is expensive and difficult).

Defenders of the trade in used electronics point out that extraction of metals from virgin mining has also been shifted to developing countries. Hard rock mining of copper, silver, gold and other materials extracted from electronics is far more environmentally damaging than the recycling of those materials. They also show that repair and reuse of computers and televisions has become a 'lost art' in wealthier nations, and that refurbishing has traditionally been a path to development. South Korea, Taiwan, and southern China all excelled in finding 'retained value' in used goods, and in some cases have set up billion dollar industries in refurbishing used ink cartridges, single use cameras, and working cathode ray tubes. Refurbishing has traditionally been a threat to established manufacturing, and simple protectionism explains some criticism of the trade. Works like [12]"The Waste Makers" by Vance Packard explain some of the criticism of exports of working product, for example the ban on import of tested working pentium 4 laptops to China, or the bans on export of used surplus working electronics by Japan.

Opponents of surplus electronics exports argue that lower environmental and labor standards, cheap labor, and the relatively high value of recovered raw materials leads to a transfer of pollution-generating activities, such as burning of copper wire. In China, Malaysia, India, Kenya, and various African countries, electronic waste is being sent to these countries for processing, sometimes illegally. Many surplus laptops are routed to developing nations as "dumping grounds for e-waste".[2] Because the United States has not ratified the Basel Convention or its Ban Amendment, and has no domestic laws forbidding the export of toxic waste, the Basel Action Network estimates that about 80% of the electronic waste directed to recycling in the U.S. does not get recycled there at all, but is put on container ships and sent to countries such as China. The 80% figure is disputed as an exaggeration by the US EPA, the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries [[1]], and World Reuse, Repair and Recycling Association.

Guiyu in the Shantou region of China, and Delhi and Bangalore in India, have electronic waste processing areas.[9][13][14] Uncontrolled burning, disassembly, and disposal can cause environmental and health problems, including occupational safety and health effects among those directly involved, due to the methods of processing the waste. Thousands of men, women, and children are employed in highly polluting, primitive recycling technologies, extracting the metals, toners, and plastics from computers and other electronic waste.

Proponents of the trade show growth of internet access is a stronger correlation to trade than poverty. Haiti is poor and closer to the port of New York than southeast Asia, but far more e-waste is exported from New York to Asia than to Haiti. Thousands of men, women, and children are employed in reuse, refurbising, repair, and remanufacturing, sustainable industries in decline in developed countries. Two of China's 20 richest people are a former bicycle repairman and a former tractor engine repairman. Denying developing nations access to used electronics denies developing nations affordable products, and to internet access.

Opponents of the trade argue that developing countries utilize methods that are more harmful and more wasteful. An expedient and prevalent method is simply to toss equipment onto an open fire, in order to melt plastics and to burn away unvaluable metals. This releases carcinogens and neurotoxins into the air, contributing to an acrid, lingering smog. These noxious fumes include dioxins and furans.[15] Bonfire refuse can be disposed of quickly into drainage ditches or waterways feeding the ocean or local water supplies.[16][17]

In June 2008, a container of illegal electronic waste, destined from the Port of Oakland in the U.S. to Sanshui District in mainland China, was intercepted in Hong Kong by Greenpeace.[18] Concern over exports of electronic waste were raised in press reports India,[19][20] Ghana,[21][22][23] Ivory Coast,[24] and Nigeria.[25]

[edit] Government regulation

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) tends to support the repair and recycling trade. Mining to produce the same metals, to meet demand for finished products in the west, also occurs in the same countries, and UNCTAD has recommended that restrictions against recycling exports be balanced against the environmental costs of recovering those materials from mining. Hard rock mining produces 45% of all toxins produced by all industries in the United States.[26]

Greenpeace contends that residue problems are so significant that the exports of all used electronics should be banned.[27]

[edit] Europe

In the 1990s some European countries banned the disposal of electronic waste in landfills. This created an electronic waste processing industry in Europe.

In Switzerland, the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in 1991, beginning with collection of old refrigerators. Over the years, all other electric and electronic devices were gradually added to the system. Legislation followed in 1998, and since January 2005 it has been possible to return all electronic waste to the sales points and other collection points free of charge. There are two established producer responsibility organizations: SWICO, mainly handling information, communication, and organization technology, and SENS, mainly responsible for electrical appliances. The total amount of recycled electronic waste exceeds 10 kg per capita per year.[28]

The European Union implemented a similar system in February 2003, under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive, 2002/96/EC).[29] The WEEE Directive has now been transposed in national laws in all member countries of the European Union. It was designed to make equipment manufacturers financially or physically responsible for their equipment at the end of its life, under a policy known as extended producer responsibility (EPR) "Users of electrical and electronic equipment from private households should have the possibility of returning WEEE at least free of charge", and manufacturers must dispose of it in an environmentally friendly manner, by ecological disposal, reuse, or refurbishment. EPR was seen as a useful policy as it internalized the end-of-life costs and provided a competitive incentive for companies to design equipment with fewer costs and liabilities when it reached its end of life. However, the application of the WEEE Directive has been criticized for implementing the EPR concept in a collective manner, and thereby losing the competitive incentive of individual manufacturers to be rewarded for their green design.[30] Since August 13, 2005, electronics manufacturers became financially responsible for compliance to the WEEE Directive. Under the directive, by the end of 2006 (with one or two years' delay for the new EU members), every country must recycle at least 4 kg of electronic waste per capita per year.

The Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (2002/95/EC),[31] commonly referred to as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS Directive), was also adopted in February 2003 by the European Union. The RoHS Directive took effect on July 1, 2006, and is required to be enforced and become law in each member state. This directive restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment.

The Battery Directive was passed in 2006, changing the previous regulations.

[edit] United States

[edit] Federal

The United States Congress considers a number of electronic waste bills, including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). Meanwhile, the main federal law governing solid waste is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. It covers only CRTs, though state regulations may differ.[32] There are also separate laws concerning battery disposal. The Consumer Electronics Association is lobbing for federal laws; this is also the position of Sharp Corporation.[33]

[edit] State

A policy of "diversion from landfill" has driven legislation in many states requiring higher and higher volumes of electronic waste to be collected and processed separate from the solid waste stream.

In 2001, Arkansas enacted the Arkansas Computer and Electronic Solid Waste Management Act, which requires that state agencies manage and sell surplus computer equipment, establishes a computer and electronics recycling fund, and authorizes the Department of Environmental Quality to regulate and/or ban the disposal of computer and electronic equipment in Arkansas landfills.[34]

California implemented a broader waste ban, with advance recovery fee funding, two years later. Electronic waste in California may neither be disposed of in a landfill nor be exported overseas.[15] The 2003 Electronic Waste Recycling Act in California introduced an Electronic Waste Recycling Fee on all new monitors and televisions sold to cover the cost of recycling. The fee ranges from six to ten dollars.[15] California went from only a handful of recyclers to over 60 within the state and over 600 collection sites. The amount of the fee depends on the size of the monitor; it was adjusted on July 1, 2005 in order to match the real cost of recycling.[35] Cellphones are "considered hazardous waste" in California; many chemicals in cellphones leach from landfills into the groundwater system.[8]

Colorado legislation requires education programs that address its electronic waste problem.[36]

In 2004, Maine passed Maine Public Law 661, An Act to Protect Public Health and the Environment by Providing for a System of Shared Responsibility for the Safe Collection and Recycling of Electronic Waste. It necessitates that after 2006, computer manufacturers take responsibility for handling and recycling computer monitors, and pay the handling costs as well.[37]

Massachusetts was the first of the United States to make it illegal to dispose of CRTs in landfills in April 2000, most similar to the European disposal bans of the 1990s.

Minnesota enacted a law making vendors responsible for the disposal of their branded electronics.[33] Minnesota legislation also outlaws the dumping of cathode ray tubes in landfills.[36]

A law in the state of Washington took effect on January 1, 2009, requiring manufacturers of electronic goods to pay for recycling, and establishing a statewide network of collection points.[38]

As of 2008, 17 states have producer responsibility laws in some form.[39] In all, 35 states have or are considering electronic waste recycling laws.[33]

[edit] Canada

In February 2004, a fee similar to the one in California was added to the cost of purchasing new televisions, computers, and computer components in Alberta, the first of its kind in Canada.[40] Saskatchewan also implemented an electronics recycling fee in February 2007,[41] followed by British Columbia in August 2007,[42] Nova Scotia in February 2008,[43] and Ontario in April 2009.[44]

[edit] Asia

South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan require that sellers and manufacturers of electronics be responsible for recycling 75% of them.[citation needed]

[edit] Recycling

Computer monitors are typically packed into low stacks on wooden pallets for recycling and then shrink-wrapped.[15]

Today the electronic waste recycling business is in all areas of the developed world a large and rapidly consolidating business. Electronic waste processing systems have matured in recent years, following increased regulatory, public, and commercial scrutiny, and a commensurate increase in entrepreneurial interest. Part of this evolution has involved greater diversion of electronic waste from energy-intensive downcycling processes (e.g., conventional recycling), where equipment is reverted to a raw material form. This diversion is achieved through reuse and refurbishing. The environmental and social benefits of reuse include diminished demand for new products and virgin raw materials (with their own environmental issues); larger quantities of pure water and electricity for associated manufacturing; less packaging per unit; availability of technology to wider swaths of society due to greater affordability of products; and diminished use of landfills.

Audiovisual components, televisions, VCRs, stereo equipment, mobile phones, other handheld devices, and computer components contain valuable elements and substances suitable for reclamation, including lead, copper, and gold.

[edit] Consumer recycling

Consumer recycling options include donating equipment directly to organizations in need, sending devices directly back to their original manufacturers, or getting components to a convenient recycler or refurbisher.[45]

[edit] Donation

Consumer recycling includes a variety of donation options, such as charities which may offer tax benefits. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of electronic recycling and donation options for American consumers.[46] The National Cristina Foundation, Tech Soup (the Donate Hardware List), the Computer Takeback Campaign,and the National Technology Recycling Project provide resources for recycling.[47][45] However, local recycling sites that do not process waste products on site, and consumers that throw electronics in the trash, still contribute to electronic waste.

[edit] Takeback

Individuals looking for environmentally-friendly ways in which to dispose of electronics can find corporate electronic takeback and recycling programs across the country.[5] Corporations nationwide have begun to offer low-cost to no-cost recycling, open to the public in most cases, and have opened centers nationally and in some cases internationally. Such programs frequently offer services to take back and recycle electronics, including mobile phones, laptop and desktop computers, digital cameras, and home and auto electronics. Companies such as Staples,[48] Toshiba,[49] and Gateway[50] offer takeback programs that provide monetary incentives for recyclable and/or working technologies. The Manufacturers Recycling Management Co. was founded by Panasonic, Sharp Corporation, and Toshiba to manage electronic waste branded by these manufacturers, including 750 tons of TVs, computers, audio equipment, faxes, and components in its first four months.[33]

Though helpful to both the environment and its citizens, there are some downsides to such programs. Many corporations offer services for a variety of electronic items, while their recycling centers are few in number. Recycling centers and takeback programs are available in many parts of the country, but the type and amount of equipment to be recycled tends to be limited. Some corporations, like Sony in its Take Back Recycling Program, provide recycling incentives but only accept up to five recycled items per day and only if they are that corporation's products.[51] Sony also partners with the Waste Management Inc. Recycle America program and offers discounts and tradeup programs.[52] Costco, which offers free shipping and handling for all recycled pieces of equipment, will only allow Costco club members to participate in their programs.[53] Crutchfield Electronics offers its own gift cards in exchange for electronic waste, through Consumer Electronics Exchange.[54] Hewlett-Packard has recycled over 750 million pounds of electronic waste globally, including hardware and print cartridges.[1]

[edit] Exchange

Many new for-profit electronic recycling companies purchase and recycle all brands of working and broken electronics, whether from individuals or corporations. Such companies also offer free recycling for old electronics without market value. A basic business model is to provide a seller an instant online quotation based on usability characteristics, then to send a shipping label and prepaid box to the seller, to erase, reformat, and process any internal memory, and to pay rapidly by check.[2] Notable recyclers include:

  • BuyMyTronics.com purchases a variety of electronic waste but does not pay for shipping.[54]
  • Cash For iPhones is a business of Cash For Laptops created in 2008 in response to the popularity of the iPhone 3G and a high degree of upgrades from outdated iPhones.[55] Cash For Laptops, founded in 2001,[2] claims to be the first to buy laptops online, in 2002.[55]
  • Cell for Cash lists a directory of cellphone makes and models available for refurbishing; many are listed as having no value other than as free recycling.[8][54]
  • Flipswap (CEO Sohrob Farudi) offers prices adjusted based on realtime sales data from a wide network of stores and buyers, and resells all its iPhones to South America, where used phones have especially high appeal.[45]
  • GreenSight Technologies provides gift cards from various retailers when consumers exchange trade-ins.[54]
  • NextWorth Solutions Inc., in Lawrence, Massachusetts (CEO David Chen), redeems only iPods and iPhones.[6]
  • ReCellular, Inc., in Dexter, Michigan (founder Chuck Newman), receives 75,000 phones each week for recycling or reuse from partners like Best Buy, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Wal-Mart.[56]
  • Second Rotation (founded in July 2007[54] and rebranded as Gazelle) employs eBay and Amazon.com prices[5] to purchase "any old electronics" and to resell or recycle them (half of them on eBay); unlisted items must be submitted for a separate price quotation.[8][54] Payment takes about two weeks,[6] and 1% of products are sent back due to unresolved disagreed assessments.[54] Though it is not profitable, COO Israel Ganot says such "reCommerce", through partners ReCellular and TechTurn, is "the first step to recycling".[5][8]
  • TechForward (founded in 2006) is a recycling startup business backed by venture capital with a similar business model;[5] it also insures electronics against upgrade.[54]

Online auction at eBay is an alternative for consumers willing to resell for cash less fees, in a complicated, self-managed, competitive environment[55] where paid listings might not sell.[54] Craigslist can be similarly risky due to forgery scams and uncertainty.[6]

[edit] Consumer awareness efforts

  • AddressTheMess.com is a Comedy Central pro-social campaign that seeks to increase awareness of the dangers of electronic waste and to encourage recycling. Partners in the effort include Earth911.org, ECOInternational.com, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎. Many Comedy Central viewers are early adopters of new electronics, and produce a commensurate amount of waste that can be directed towards recycling efforts. The station is also taking steps to reduce its own environmental impact, in partnership with NativeEnergy.com, a company that specializes in renewable energy and carbon offsets.
  • The Electronic Take-Back Coalition (ComputerTakeBack.com) is a campaign aimed at protecting human health and limiting environmental effects where electronics are being produced, used, and discarded. The ETBC aims to place responsibility for disposal of technology products on electronic manufacturers and brand owners, primarily through community promotions and legal enforcement initiatives. It provides recommendations for consumer recycling and a list of recyclers judged environmentally responsible.[57]
  • The grassroots Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (EToxics.org) focuses on promoting human health and addresses environmental justice problems resulting from toxins in technologies.
  • Basel Action Network (BAN.org) is uniquely focused on addressing global environmental injustices and economic inefficiency of global "toxic trade". It works for human rights and the environment by preventing disproportionate dumping on a large scale. It promotes sustainable solutions and attempts to ban waste trade.

[edit] Processing techniques

In developed countries, electronic waste processing usually first involves dismantling the equipment into various parts (metal frames, power supplies, circuit boards, plastics), often by hand.

In an alternative bulk system, a hopper conveys material for shredding into a sophisticated mechanical separator, with screening and granulating machines to separate constituent metal and plastic fractions, which are sold to smelters or plastics recyclers. Such recycling machinery is enclosed and employs a dust collection system. Most of the emissions are caught by scrubbers and screens. Magnets, eddy currents, and trommel screens are employed to separate glass, plastic, and ferrous and nonferrous metals, which can then be further separated at a smelter. Leaded glass from CRTs is reused in car batteries, ammunition, and lead wheel weights,[15] or sold to foundries as a fluxing agent in processing raw lead ore. Copper, gold, palladium, silver, and tin are valuable metals sold to smelters for recycling. Hazardous smoke and gases are captured, contained, and treated to mitigate environmental threat. These methods allow for safe reclamation of all valuable computer construction materials.[16] Hewlett-Packard product recycling solutions manager Renee St. Denis describes its process as: "We move them through giant shredders about 30 feet tall and it shreds everything into pieces about the size of a quarter. Once your disk drive is shredded into pieces about this big, it's hard to get the data off."[58]

An ideal electronic waste recycling plant combines dismantling for component recovery with increased cost-effective processing of bulk electronic waste.

A growing trend in electronic waste management is reuse. Gazelle contends that reuse is preferable to recycling because it extends the lifespan of a device. Devices still need eventual recycling, but by allowing others to purchase used electronics, recycling can be postponed and value gained from device use.

[edit] Electronic waste substances

Some computer components can be reused in assembling new computer products, while others are reduced to metals that can be reused in applications as varied as construction, flatware, and jewelry.[58]

Substances found in large quantities include epoxy resins, fiberglass, PCBs, PVC, thermosetting plastics, lead, tin, copper, silicon, beryllium, carbon, iron and aluminium.

Elements found in small amounts include cadmium, mercury, and thallium.[59]

Elements found in trace amounts include americium, antimony, arsenic, barium, bismuth, boron, cobalt, europium, gallium, germanium, gold, indium, lithium, manganese, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, selenium, silver, tantalum, terbium, thorium, titanium, vanadium, and yttrium.

Almost all electronics contain lead and tin (as solder) and copper (as wire and printed circuit board tracks), though the use of lead-free solder is now spreading rapidly. The following are ordinary applications:

[edit] Hazardous

[edit] Generally nonhazardous

[edit] See also

[edit] Topics

[edit] Regulation

[edit] Organizations

[edit] References

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  12. ^ 1960 The Waste Makers - criticizes planned obsolescence
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