Environmental and Health Impacts of E-waste
End-of-life electronics, also known as e-waste, have steadily become a visible environmental threat. With the electronic industry rapidly becoming the world's largest manufacturing industry and, arguably, the industry with the shortest product life cycles, it is critical that the method of disposing of the resulting e-waste becomes an integral part of electronic manufacturing and consumption . Unfortunately, eco-friendly e-waste recycling is at an all-time low: according to the United Nations Environmental Programme, more than half of the nearly 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste generated worldwide ends up in landfills or is illegally transported.. Unfortunately, eco-friendly e-waste recycling is at an all-time low: according to the United Nations Environmental Programme, more than half of the nearly 50 million metric Tonnes of e-waste generated worldwide ends up in landfills or is illegally transported.
Industrialized and technologically advanced nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and other wealthy economies produce the majority of the world's electronic products and, as a result, produce the majority of the world's e-waste. Rather than developing an environmentally friendly method of manufacturing and disposing of e-waste, these countries use another method of disposing of their growing collection of e-waste – exporting the e-waste to developing countries, particularly Africa and Asia, disguised as ‘second hand' electronics.
According to the ILO, up to 100,000 people work in Nigeria's informal waste-recycling sector. They manually collect and disassemble electronics in order to reclaim components that can be sold. These people are at risk of direct chemical poisoning, which can lead to organ dysfunction or disorders caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals. Ironically, what has been considered waste and hazardous to both humans and the environment is actually the livelihood of the host community where the e-waste is disposed. Scavenging of e-waste materials by the host community is an economical aspect of e-waste that cannot be ignored. According to the Computer and Allied Product Dealers Association of Nigeria (CAPDAN), Nigeria has a thriving repair industry but no capacity to safely dispose of electronic waste, the majority of which ends up in landfills and informal dumps.
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E-waste is commonly either landfilled or incinerated. Land filling is the practice of burying waste in the ground. This location is usually on the outskirts of a community. While this may appear to be a safe option, the end result is the leaching of toxins from decaying materials into ground water and soil. Incineration, on the other hand, is the thermal or closed burning of waste. Because this process is not flawless, it facilitates the release of toxic air pollutants such as dioxins into the environment which can cause climate change. Breathing difficulties, respiratory irritation, coughing, choking, pneumonitis, tremors, neuropsychiatric problems, convulsions, coma, and even death are all potential human health risks posed by e-waste.
Section 6.2 of Nigeria's National Policy on Environment explicitly states appropriate agencies' responsibilities in the administration and management of hazardous and radioactive substances. According to an excerpt from the policy document, "...appropriate governmental agencies shall therefore establish regional framework and standards for "DUMP WATCH" against trans-boundary movement of toxic, hazardous, and radioactive wastes and for the achievement of environmentally sound hazardous substance management;" While this law is effective in itself, as of this writing, there are no direct laws prohibiting the importation of e-waste in the guise “second hand” goods, neither are there laws to determine the health or standard of the “second hand” goods being imported. Despite the fact that there are no explicit laws prohibiting the importation of obsolete electronic devices, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) regulates the shipment and importation of electronic devices into the country.
Effective regulation must be combined with incentives for informal recyclers to avoid destructive processes. Multidisciplinary solutions, in addition to technical solutions, are therefore essential, as is addressing the underlying social inequities inherent in the e-waste business. Recycling operations in the informal sector of the economy provide work for hundreds of thousands of low-income people. Addressing occupational risks as the root cause of hazardous work and, in the process, developing decent working conditions is one possible entry point to addressing their negative impacts.
Solutions to the global e-waste problem include increasing consumer and e-waste recycler awareness, integrating the informal and formal sectors, creating green jobs, enforcing legislation and labor standards, and eliminating practices that are harmful to human health and the environment, it is also critical to target electrical and electronics manufacturers by enacting Extended Producer Responsibility legislation and encouraging initial designs to be green, long-lasting, upgradeable, and built for recycling.
There is also a critical need to encourage indigenous growth in the IT sector, as well as to establish a formal recycling plant that will consider collaboration with the informal recycling sector. Any economy relies heavily on the electronic industry. It is not only a vehicle for rapid income and development; it is also a potential threat to the global ecosystem if effective waste management systems are not put in place.
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