Definition of E-Waste
Electronic waste refers to the trash which is generated from broken, surplus and obsolete electronic devices. E-waste is created after discarding of an electronic product probably when the useful life ends. A large amount of e-waste is being created every minute due to the rapid expansion of technology. E-waste is mainly derived from discarded computers, television sets, refrigerators, mobile phones as well as office and electronic entertainment devices.
What Makes E-Waste So Bad
E-waste is hazardous because it contains a list of chemicals like lead, cadmium, mercury, brominated flame retardants and beryllium which are harmful to both people and the environment. Poor mishandling during disposal of electronic wastes leads to the chemicals ending up in water, air, and soil (Premalathaet al., p.1630). The worst thing when it comes to handling and disposing of electronic wastes is that the substances are sometimes illegally exported to countries which do not have laws on how to manage. Once the waste is dumped in countries, valuable materials are recovered although in unsafe working conditions.
E-Waste inGuiyu City
Guiyu City which is in China is termed as the worlds e-waste capital. For instance, Guiyu city employs more than 150 000 E-waste recyclers, dis-assemblers as well as salvage workers toiling through sixteen hours a day while tearing apart waste computers together with other electronic devices (Wenqinget al., p.87). The employees work in recapturing any metals or other valuable parts which can be sold or even re-used. By using their hand, the workers thoroughly reduce every piece of equipment to the smallest components. The equipment pieces are then farmed off to ‘specialists,’ workers who are dedicated to striping wires for the contained copper or melting of the lead solder from the circuit boards.
The workers use primitive methods which leave them exposed to environmental hazards. For instance, circuit boards, as well as other computer parts, are individually burned over open fires for extraction of metals. Thus, the smelting processes release large quantities of toxic gases to the air. Plastic is graded according to their quality and other parts burned for separating of plastic from scrap metals. After the thorough dismembering, any of the remaining combustibles are left to burn in open fires which leads to filling of the atmosphere with acrid plastic stench, paint, and rubber.
Environmental and Health Impacts ofE-Waste
The environmental and health side effects of e-waste are incredibly damaging because the air is not safe for breathing nor is the water suitable for drinking. E-waste causes health problems due to the presence of lead and other poisonous metals in human blood (Song et al., 457).In Guiyu City things are worse for the residents because of the toxic air and unsafe drinking water. For instance, Guiyu has the highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world where pregnancies are six times more likely to miscarriage as well as seven out of ten children are born with 50% higher lead levels compared to children born in other parts of the world (McAllister, p.76). The Guiyu workers are impoverished migrant children and laborer’s living and working under the same dirty conditions contaminated by toxic pollution and heavy metals. For instance, the groundwater in Guiyu City is undrinkable because streams are black, choked and pungent with industrial waste. According to Kevin Brigden from the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, the flows from the region are leached with acidic baths. Kevin indicated that the water is so acidic such that it is powerful enough for disintegrating a penny after some few hours.
Economic Rationale for E-Waste
The financial incentives established by strict, unenforced and non-existent regulations in developing countries as well as the simplicity of free trade which has been brought about by globalization makes recyclers to export e-waste. For instance, the value of discarded electronic parts provides an incentive for poverty-stricken citizens who migrate to Guiyu from other regions and work in processing e-waste. To the migrants working in Guiyu City, it is better for them since they earn a living through melting lead solder off circuit boards. According to Xiao Li one of the migrants, life is better in Guiyu City compared to his remote village of Sichuan where residents depend on farming for livelihood (Sthiannopkao et al., p.1151). However, Xiao is probably wrong. According to research conducted by Professor Huo Xia of Shantou University Medical College where she tested one hundred and sixty-five children for lead concentration in their blood, eighty-two percent of the youngsters had blood lead levels above one hundred and which is considered unsafe by international health experts (Greenpeace, para.6). For instance, high lead levels in children impact IQ and central nervous system development. The highest lead concentrations were found in children whose parents worked in workshops dealing with circuit boards. Else, a different report from Shantou Medical University Hospital found incidences of headaches, skin damages, nausea, duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis, and vertigo, particularly among the migrants recycling plastic and circuit boards. Besides, e-waste laborer’s in GuiyuCity have high toxic flame retards inside their bodies.
Cleanup Efforts in Guiyu City
Conditions have changed due to the efforts by the central government in cracking down and enforcing the permanent e-waste import ban. The aims of activist groups and increased awareness has led to the local government establishing steps for improving environmental conditions. For instance, Guiyu City has developed a clean and healthy atmosphere since the strict measures on the disposal of electronic wastes came into force in the year 2013 (Lu, Chenyu, et al., p.8). Through enacting of strict measures and regulations, the war was declared on the dismantling of e-waste, until all the family workshops were moved to the industrial zone and transformed into environmentally friendly outfits. In the year 2012 Guiyu was home to more than five thousand small studios (Zheng et al., para.4). Nevertheless, the workshops nowadays host about one thousand and four hundred who have consolidated to forming twenty-nine joint-venture companies which are located in the opened industrial zone.
Guiyu currently processes about four hundred tons of discarded e-waste annually. Nevertheless, a system of covering the whole recycling process has been established which includes keeping records of all the waste entering the town to dismantling and the last re-sales. Recently, the volume of E-waste has increased in China due to the growing economic strength that has boosted demand for electronic appliances as citizens upgrade old equipment or replace (Heacock., p.132). However, the central government has enabled e-waste businesses through the improvement of laws and policies for regulating their growth and protecting the environment. Consequently, the government has issued special measures for boosting proper, certified recycling as well as dismantling of businesses.
The solution to e-waste problems is that major electronic firms should stop the use of hazardous chemicals to ensure that their products are more accessible and safer to recycle. Therefore, all companies should be accountable for their products and take back the old materials for re-using, recycling or disposal. First, re-using involves regifting, donating or selling instead of tossing out electronic equipment’s. The other solution to dealing with e-waste is through the repair. People mostly throw out and replace broken electronics instead of getting the material to be repaired (Kiddee et al., p.1246). Else, reducing is another most natural way of solving the e-waste crisis. Companies are coming up with new products such as Apple with its iPhone. For instance, new products function and look better compared to their predecessors although innovation comes at a price. Therefore, instead of buying flashy gadgets one should stick to what he/she has and take care of the electronics which ensures that they last longer. Reducing leads to saving money since there is no regular replacement (Sthiannopkao., p.1149). The last solution is recycling which is very efficient in dealing with e-waste when done correctly. For instance, many communities have e-waste recycling events and drop-off depots which handle such materials.
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