E-waste is used to describe electronic products whose life is almost coming to an end. These wastes are mostly from technological products like computers, copiers, fax machines and other common electronic equipment. Various regulations have been in place to govern disposal of electronic waste to the environment. Regulations come in form of measures and policies that help recover and recycle them administratively to ease their negative impacts to the environment. E-waste in a growing area of waste streams because of technological development that prompt people to buy new electronics at an astounding rate. Different technology companies manufacture electronic products differently with some being unable to last for long. Moreover, people are also finding it hard to manage thinner and small items such as smart phones and tables making it hard for people to fix problems and prolong their use. The paper aims to discuss sources of E-waste, highlight on impacts to developing countries and provide a conclusion on how to deal with the problems.
Technological development has necessitated production of electronic equipment whose waste potentially impacts on the environment, especially in developing countries. Different people view wastes differently because of the link existing between culture and wastes. Studies have established that there is strong relationship between the propensity to participate in cultural activities and the ability to abide by waste recycling guidelines (Kuehr and Eric 43). Significantly, policies aimed to sustain sustainable development are more effective if cultural participation of people is considered.
E-waste raises ethical concerns in developing countries because people enjoy technological gadgets that appear and surfaces at persistent pace. Today, people replace old technological gadgets with new ones. For instance, mobile phone users switch to new smartphones after every 18 months. Television sets are often not updated but when they break they are often replaced by new ones and thus olds one becomes obsolete. Experts have established that such behaviors prompts people to throw old equipment into trash and majority do not always ask what happens to old technology phased out, obviously all that e-waste must be going somewhere (Kuehr and Eric 38). Most of the products thrown to the trash often end up in landfills that use resources up and space. Moreover, such wastes contain toxic elements that pose environmental problems. The idea of dumping old electronic products is morally unacceptable.
Some products may end up being recycled; the rest is often shipped to developing countries in Asia and Africa in form of e-waste. Recycling centers in developed countries are often regulated while those in developing countries tend to be poorly regulated. Humble practices of recycling in developing countries are often characterized by risky practices that could harm individual and community setups. From a moral viewpoint, poor recycling practices are unacceptable because of responsibility associated with such practices. As developed countries enjoy the fruits of technological development as they pass costs and risks to developing countries, this is an irresponsible act of allowing people to pay price for benefits that developed countries receive. Consequently, technological advancement harm people involved in handling e-wastes, this is because of potential contamination of the environment. This raises ethical concerns on health of people and environmental conservation.
Sources of Technological E-waste
Sources of E-waste majorly come from technological companies like cell phone that allow free upgrades after every two. New upgrades of phones prompts people to stop using working phones and transition to new version, when this occurs old phones are discarded and thereby forming e-wastes that are then disposed in the environment. Second, hardware failure of computers also forms part of e-waste. Studies have established that most laptops fail within three years of their operations due to hardware failures (Kuehr and Eric 29). Malfunctioning components or entire computer systems are disposed because they are of no use to their owners who definitely acquire new systems.
Third, digital migration that recently converted analogue computers signals to digital platforms has left behind trails of obsolete television sets. In light of this, many used television sets have been disposed to developed countries or environment and thus raise potential ethical issues. Fourth, disposable printers also form part of e-waste because most printers that have saturated the market are cheaper than their toners. Moreover, they do not last long and when they break down people do not think of fixing them because the fixing cost may be much higher than buying a new one. A cross check in most business organizations reveal piles of unused printers that are then disposed on the environment. Fifth, software upgrade like Window 7 operating system has rendered most computers unusable because the system cannot run on old computers because of insufficient memory and speed. These computers are then replaced with new computer sets rendering old one useless and thus disposed to environment form of donations to less developed.
Lastly, most electronic gadgets have rechargeable batteries which at some time can no longer hold enough charge and thus needs replacement. In cases that battery can no longer support electronic equipment most people dispose and buy new ones, the old batteries are then thrown or shipped to developing countries.
Impacts of E-Waste to Developing Countries
E-waste impacts negatively to environment through landfills that later leach to ground water harming living creatures. It has been established that United States as a country generates million tons of e-waste where only 25 percent are recycled (Morgan 67). The rest are shipped to developing countries where they are disposed in landfills and incinerators that percolate into soil and underground water. Environmentalists have affirmed that when e-waste is dispatched to developed countries, they impact negatively because such countries do not have the necessary infrastructure to handle such wastes (Morgan 52). Such waste amplifies ecological wellbeing and dangers because of landfilling the ecosystem with wastes thus accumulating toxic substance to the environment. Toxics from e-wastes accumulate in human bodies thereby causing serious health issues in form of cancer and other ailments. It is now clear that shipment of e-wastes to developing countries should be restricted so as to improve health and living conditions of people while also protecting the environment.
It has been established that developed countries do not possess sophisticated infrastructure to recycle e-waste (Hester and Roy 9). Instead, most of their e-wastes are recycled through shredding, burning and dismantling the products and in the process emissions are produced. Emissions are always characterized by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that pollute the environment and instigate climate change. This is because when carbon dioxide is released to the environment, it traps heat that leads to global warming and thus cause climate change. Climate change makes weather of certain places to be unpredictable; this is characterized by impulsive rainfall making some regions to transform into deserts. Moreover, when carbon dioxide is mixed with water it results into acid rain, this leads to ocean acidification that heavily affect living creatures in ocean waters. Emissions and acidification affect human and animal life in developing countries. For instance, inhaling emissions from recycling e-wastes affects the respiratory system that may degenerate into throat cancer. Notably, medial studies have established that primary and secondary exposure to toxic metals, such as lead, arising from retrieval of gold and combustion of e-wastes may cause pulmonary and cardiovascular disease (Morgan 85). Most of materials arising from recycling activities are non-biodegradable and thus persist in the environment exposing people to prolonged exposure to risks.
E-wastes raise security concerns in developing countries. This is through shipping out end-of-life computer components that contain sensitive personal information and bank account details without deleting. When such components lands in the hand of criminals it leaves opportunity for fraud and illegal activities that raise security concerns for both developed and developing countries. Technology is a tool that can be used to necessitate crime remotely; criminal activity is morally incorrect. For instance, cases have arisen where illegal traders have conducted contracts with government institutions simply because hard drives containing important information were incorrectly wiped out before disposal. Security concerns also arise in situations where recycling is conducted by prisoners. It has been established that inmates are increasingly being used to recycle because they are relatively cheaper compared to those employed outside (Morgan 55). When they come across sensitive information during recycling they may use such information to their advantage and the end result would be security breach.
Positively, e-wastes have improved economy of some developing countries such as South Africa. This is because when people re-invest and recycle wastes material jobs are actually created and reduction of the amount of metals that leaves the economy cycle. This is necessitated with appropriate legislation ensuring proper recycling and disposal of e-wastes. Moreover, developing countries may export e-waste to nations like China who are e-waste emerging economies and thus foreign exchange from exports help boost the economy through improvement of enabling infrastructure. To boost economy in developing countries manufacturers can reconstruct e-wastes to help keep precious metals and re-use to develop more products for the economy. Studies have established that economics of e-waste production can be determined through a correlation with GDP growth of developing countries (Morgan 25). This can also be evaluated based on GDP per capita, urbanization and e-waste generation that indicates that per capita generation is higher when e-wastes are recycled. This means that with projected growth in electronics and technology sector appreciation of unmanaged and unprocessed e-waste will encourage more recycling and thus improved income generation.
Technological development witnessed in different sectors has transformed business operation and processing of products that are customized to user preferences. Today, technology has generated e-wastes because products are transformed and improved; as such people tend to buy new customized products leaving old items to be obsolete. Obsolete electronic equipment is disposed to the environment endangering life of humans and animals through contaminating the environment. Nevertheless, recycling of e-waste promotes economy by ensuring that vital metals are not lost. Proper recycling of e-wastes should be done under well-established regulations that do not endanger lives of people. Reverse logistics will be critical in ensuring that old materials are transformed to usable products that reduce raw materials used in producing new products.
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Morgan, Sally. Waste, Recycling and Reuse. London: Evans, 2006. Print.