Environmental Impacts Essay

Length: 12 pages Sources: 10 Subject: Transportation - Environmental Issues Type: Essay Paper: #71348746 Related Topics: Reproductive System, Hazardous Materials, Recycling, Environmental Science
Excerpt from Essay :

E-Waste: Environmental Impacts

The E-waste Threat

Health and Environmental Impact of E-waste

Particulars to Human Threat from Hazardous Metals from E-waste

Soil and water Contaminations from E-waste

The growth of electronic waste is expected to rise exponentially in the next few years. According to a report published in 'The Guardian' on December 2013, the volume of electronic waste is estimated to increase at a rate of 33% in the next few years (Hester & Harrison, 2009). The report, quoting UN's 'Step initiative', the combined weight of all the e-waste would be the same as eight of the great Egyptian pyramids put together (Vidal, 2013). The electronic wastes are made up of various materials like lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and flame retardants. All these chemicals are toxic in nature. For example, a cathode ray tube television set can have up to three kilograms of lead (McCann & Wittmann, 2015).

Such toxic wastes once, they get into landfills, can seep through the soil and enter the ground water or the land or air. These toxic elements can then also mix with farm produce, or can be directly consumed unknowingly by people and animals causing harm. Such toxic elements tend to contaminate water, air and land. In addition to this, the dismantling of e-waste is also often done in primitive ways with potential of causing direct harm to people (Hieronymi, Kahhat & Williams, 2013).

The Population reference Bureau says that according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) every year there are more than 40 million millions tons of electronic waste is produced across the globe. But just 13% of the e-waste is actually recycled and the rest is dumped. However UNEO also notes that these estimates are relatively low as accurate data on e-waste is not always readily available (Prb.org, 2015). The above facts clearly show that dumping of e-waste is potentially hazardous to the environment as well as to the people who use it or are engaged in its dismantling for re use. Hence it is argued that the export of E-waste should be stopped for reasons related to health and environment safety (McCann & Wittmann, 2015).

The E-waste Threat

In the last couple of decades, the importance that has been attached to the growing threat from e-waste to the environment and humans has increased rapidly. This is because of the rising concerns about the steady growth of e-waste that exhibits no signals of slowing down and yet posing environmental and human health hazards. According to estimates the annual growth in e-waste is more than 5% every year globally.

According to a report published in the Newsweek, more than 49 million metric tons of e-waste was generate din 2012. The e-waste comprised of electronic items like last generation cell phones, laptops, televisions and washing machines. The largest of the contributors to e-waste has been identified as the United States where the average e-waste created per person is 66 pounds and growing. This number is projected to reach 65.4 metric tons by 2017 according to a study of a partner organization of the United Nations. The report also clarifies that even as the amount of e-waste increases, the solutions to recycle and prevent environmental damage have not been developed to corresponding levels (Walker, 2014).

The concept and culture of "make, consume and dispose" is reiterated by the growth of e-waste. This is a predominant culture in the developed nations and is gradually spreading to other economies as well. According to Foote and Mazzolini, (2012) the characteristics of e-waste have elements that tend to threaten the environment and the human health through the improper discarding of the e-waste materials as well as the potential to provide alternative means of livelihood (Hieronymi, Kahhat & Williams, 2013).

According to Chris Caroll of the National Geography the definition of e-waste is the accumulation of the debris that are generated when a consumer or business electronic equipment that is near the end of its useful life cycle is no more useful to the user and the user would tend to buy a new device by dumping the old one (Carroll, 2015). While e-waste primarily is believed to be comprised of electronic equipment like


Studies have identified a number of causes of e-waste which are linked primarily to the rapid growth of technological devices, increased population, and the change in human behavioral patterns about usage of electronic products. All these factors contribute, some to a larger degree others lesser degree, to the generation of e-waste (Malhotra, Smith and Linder, 2011).

There has been a rapid growth in technologically and huge advancements have been made in the last few decades. This growth in technology has resulted in the development of new electronic products more often than ever before in the human history. According to N. Cohen, (2011) new and improved devices are being brought into the market on a regular basis which are claimed to be better than the older version by the manufacturing companies. These technologically advanced devices are being chosen by consumers over their existing devices which are then considered to be obsolete. This causes people, for example, to discard their old computers or their mobile phones or fax machines for newer and improved versions. It is believed that the average life span of a computer in the developing and the developed economies is slightly above a year. With the rise in the need to use computers or other electronic devices rising and more devices flooding the market, it is expected that the average life cycle of electronic goods would get reduced more in the future (Cohen, 2011).

The growth in the world population I the last few decades and the increase in the life span of people in general is another related cause of the creation of e-waste. The growth in population means that more and more people are present in the markets that use electronic devices. Therefore more and more electronic devices are being produced for the added population. Added to this problem is the constant upgrading of electronic devices compounds the problem of e-waste. More people using electronic devices means that more people are essentially throwing out more of the devices and discarding tem as waste. Larger population using electronic devices and regular advancement of devices means greater e-waste production.

According to V. Goodship, (n.d.) another reason for the rapid rise in the e-waste volume over the last few years has been attributed to the change in the way people and consumer =s view electronic items. For most, electronic items like mobile phones, computers and laptops are also regarded as a device that adds to their style and social status. Therefore the more technologically advanced or more stylish a computer or a mobile phone is, the more satisfied the owner would be. This often becomes as important as the functions and the dependability of the device. This attitude among a large section of consumers, researchers say, has results in the companies churning out new and improved versions of electronic devices now and them and is resulting in more consumers forsaking their older devices for new improved versions. This is also one of the reasons why e-waste is on the rise all across the globe (Goodship, n.d.). This behavior is not isolated characteristic of one market but a general trend among global consumers.

According to the dynamics of the flow of e-waste, it has a tendency of being exported from the developed economies to the developing and the underdeveloped economies. One the major characteristic of such export of e-waste is that it has the potential opportunity to retain valuable resources and material by closing the loop of material flows. This export also has the potential to generate revenue from the dismantling of the refuse. Therefore form many people in the developing economies e-waste also forms a major source of income for a section of the people. This increases the chances of health and safety damage to those handling the recycling of the waste (United Nations UNiversity, 2015).

There are ample reasons to be skeptical and critical about e-waste. E-waste comprises of more than 1000 different substances. While a large number of them are hazardous, there are many that are considered to be non-hazardous. Though a major portion of the e-waste is composed of ferrous and non-metallic materials like plastics, it becomes hazardous when there is presence of hazardous materials and elements that are beyond the safe limit. Most of the e-waste materials contain hazardous materials like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium and hexavalent chromium and flame retardants (McCann & Wittmann, 2015). The e-waste materials that contain a high concentration of these hazardous materials makes the e-waste potentially harmful to the environment and for the health and safety of people using and handling e-waste.

Health and Environmental Impact of E-waste

Many of the several hundred tiny components that make up electronic…

Sources Used in Documents:


Carroll, C. (2015). High-Tech Trash - National Geographic Magazine. [online] Ngm.nationalgeographic.com. Available at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/01/high-tech-trash/carroll-text [Accessed 25 Apr. 2015].

Cohen, N. (2011). Green business. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Foote, S. And Mazzolini, E. (2012). Histories of the dustheap. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Goodship, V. (n.d.). Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) handbook.
Griffith.edu.au,. (2015). Facts and figures - Griffith University. Retrieved 25 April 2015, from http://www.griffith.edu.au/engineering-information-technology/e-waste-research-group/facts-figures
Prb.org, (2015). The Human and Environmental Effects of E-Waste. [online] Available at: http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2013/e-waste.aspx [Accessed 25 Apr. 2015].
Richter, F. (2014). Infographic: 49 Million Tons of E-Waste Were Generated in 2012. Statista Infographics. Retrieved 25 April 2015, from http://www.statista.com/chart/2283/electronic-waste/
Walker, L. (2014). Mounting Electronic Waste Poses Major Threat to Environment, Health. Newsweek. [online] Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/mounting-electronic-waste-poses-major-threat-environment-health-287885 [Accessed 25 Apr. 2015].
United Nations UNiversity. (2015) (pp. 10-17). Bonn.us, D. (2015). Recycling your Dell. Dell. Retrieved 25 April 2015, from http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/corp-comm/e-waste
Vidal, J. (2013). Toxic 'e-waste' dumped in poor nations, says United Nations. The Guardian, p. 1. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/dec/14/toxic-ewaste-illegal-dumping-developing-countries

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