I remember when I was a child, we were the only house in the whole neighbourhood with a computer. People came to our house just to catch a glimpse of the electronic box, despite not having a single idea what it did. After a few years, I noticed that every other house in the neighbourhood had computers too. Now the computer is not a luxury item anymore; it is an item of necessity. The same story also applies to mobile phones. Some 10 years ago, a man carrying a big cordless phone was perceived as a ‘rich man’. But now, every teen and old man carries a cell phone. These are devices that have played a key role in shaping today’s society and our way of life. The entrance of gadgets like portable music players have changed the definition of modern audio players. People no longer wait in queues in front of music stores to purchase cassettes or CDs; they find their music online.
However, there is a cost to every benefit. The introduction of new technological gadgets lead to the dumping of the older ones, creating electronic waste. Simply put, electronic waste or e-waste is used electronic products that have been discarded. Computer and mobile phone components are major contributors to e-waste. In a country like Nepal, where we even don’t know the amount of e-waste being dumped every year, recycling is out of question. Even the newly enacted Solid Waste Management Act-2011 has not given proper recognition to this category of waste. The Act places all waste, other than medical or organic waste, in the “other hazardous waste” category. Data shows there are over 2 million units of computer parts and cell phones worth over five billion rupees entering the Nepali market every year and the market is growing by more than 50 percent.
Concerns such as the presence of toxic materials and resource conservation are propping up the growth of e-recycling industries. E-waste contains a lot of resources such as copper, lead, gold and silver. One mobile phone consists of 0.028g of gold, 0.189g of silver and 13.71g of copper. These metals can be extracted from these electronic products and reinstalled in new electronic products. However, the main problem is that most of these resources are not extracted due to the crude dismantling process, mainly in China and India, a dumping ground for these ‘artificial mines’. Investment needs to be made in technology that can help extract the proper amount of resources and recyclable products from the growing amounts of e-waste.
Electronic waste can be dangerous to the environment if it is not managed properly. Big markets like China and India have started imposing stricter rules on recyling of hazardous waste, where electronic waste as a major contributor. Because e-waste contains metals like mercury, cadmium and lead which, if not treated properly, can pose serious health risks, they should not be dumped directly into landfills. E-waste should rather be further reproc-essed for further production. If proper investment is made in e-waste extraction process, it can benefit both the individual and the environment.
(Poudel is a Master’s degree candidate in technological economics and management at Tongji University, Shanghai)
Posted on: 2012-12-30 08:38