Technology: Managing Electronic Waste For A Safer Environment

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Man in an electronic dumpsite image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/467530005053304681/?lp=true

Electronic waste is the discarding of electronic devices. It includes devices such as computers, televisions, stereos, mobiles phones and other accessories.  Most of the discarding happens in dumpsites and left to street people to scavenge for scrap. The digital era comes with a high demand for electronics and, in turn, immense electronic waste. It’s evident in dumpsites such as Agbobloshie in Ghana. As the majority of the population move from analogue to digital devices, there’s been a high rate of people switching from one device to another. Additionally, cheap devices in the market only worsen the situation.

According to a January 2019 report from the World Economic Forum,  electronic waste is now the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. It had an estimated waste stream of 48.5 million tonnes in 2018. This demands more effective action towards the problem. Even with numerous environmental legislation, it doesn’t seem like electronic waste is under control.

Electronic waste poses great risks to the environment and population. Not only is it an unsightly mess but also it releases toxic materials such as lead, chromium and mercury that are corrosive to the environment. The fumes from this waste pose serious health risks. Children are particularly at a higher risk of being affected by electronic waste emission since they’re still growing and depend heavily on their food, water and air intake. Some of the health risks electronic waste poses include fetal loss, prematurity, low birth weight, and congenital malformations; abnormal thyroid function and thyroid development; neurobehavioral disturbances; and genotoxicity

However, many people are still unaware of how to discard or reuse their devices appropriately. According to a UN study, only 10-20% of electronic waste is discarded off properly. Once old devices break down, there are effective and eco-friendly ways to do get rid of them.

Man in an electronic dumpsite image from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/467530005053304681/?lp=true

Recycling

In America, 25 states have passed laws requiring people to recycle used and old electronics. Recycling electronic waste is one of the most effective ways to dispose of it. In a perfect world, the recycling process involves placing the devices in a collecting bin. From there, they transport the waste to a recycling facility for separation. Finally, they extract the necessary material which includes gold in some cases.

Kenya currently has one major recycling facility. The Computers For Schools Kenya (CFSK) has been promoting local innovation by recycling CRT (cathode ray tube) computer monitors and converting them to affordable TV sets.

Unfortunately, the recycling business has been heavily commercialized with low returns. Therefore, it attracts the poorest in society and often times, these are children. They also have no training on how to handle the electronic waste. In the end, they do more harm than good.

Donation

Most electronic brands encourage their customers to donate their devices instead of letting them gather dust. They can even swap their old devices for new ones at a cheaper price. These devices will be reused or refurbished depending on their condition. It’s an effective way to minimize your electronic waste as the raw materials are all put to good use. Additionally, you can get some value worth of these old devices as opposed to throwing them away. In Kenya, some small scale traders and companies have turned this into a lucrative business.

However, people have disguised dumping useless electronics to Africa in the name of donations. Some have reported to receiving large electronic shipments from overseas only to find that most of them are beyond repair.

Reselling

There’s a readily available market for used devices since new devices come with a high price tag. Instead of letting these devices gather dust, you can make some extra cash by reselling them Some corporates have caught on to this method and hold auctions to sell their old devices. As an individual, you can dispose of your old devices through a second-hand dealer, resell sites like OLX or on your social media platforms.

Make sure your ads are accurate and not misleading. If your device is not in mint condition, disclose its defects so the buyer has a full description of the purchase.

Buying Less

Everybody has a mobile phone now – even young children who can barely say their name. Such unnecessary purchases cause an increase in electronic waste. We don’t need 3 iPads in one household. Instead, buy one desktop that the whole family can use. We should avoid buying things we don’t need so as to be able to manage what we already have. Before replacing a broken device, try fixing it first.

Let’s be responsible citizens and dispose of our electronic waste correctly. Here are 5 Cities And Countries We Should Emulate In Waste Management

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