GS Study Material for Competitive Exam: Electronic Waste and its Disposal

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  • The advancement in technology is resulting in the reduced size of the electronic component and increased efficiency.

  • The e-waste trade flourishes in India with port cities like Singapore and Dubai. The two-act as transit centers in the e-waste trade route.

electronic waste

The creation of innovative and new technologies and globalization has made the whole range of electronic products available to the people. New electronic products have become an integral part of our daily lives that provide comfort, security, easy and faster acquisition and exchange of information. The advancement in technology is resulting in the reduced size of the electronic component and increased efficiency. This is further resulting in an increase in electronic waste. E-Waste for short - or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) - is the term used to describe old, end-of-life or discarded appliances using electricity. They are corrosive, reactive, toxic, poisonous and infectious in nature. The major products that contribute to the e-waste are refrigerators, washing machines, computers, printers, televisions, mobiles, i-pods , photocopiers, fax machines, PCBs ( polychlorinated transformers, capacitors, softening biphenyls) etc.

A major reason for the rapid generation of e-waste and the resulting growth of the recycling market is attributed to the short lifespan of goods in the West. Such goods are routinely replaced at least every two years, and then either simply discarded or exported to developing
countries where there is still a demand for second-hand merchandise. Since, e-waste is a cheap source of raw materials that provides employment to many people. It is recycled and reprocessed.

E-Waste Trade

An estimated 40-50 million tons of E-waste are produced each year.  USA discards 30 million computers each year and 100 million phones are disposed of in Europe each year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled, the rest
of these electronics go directly into landfills and incinerators. The e-waste trade flourishes in India with port cities like Singapore and Dubai. The two-act as transit centers in the e-waste trade route. E-waste from Australia North America, South Korea and Japan is received in Singapore and dispatched to the importing Asian countries.

The scrap and waste from U.S.A., Europe, and the West Asian countries are re-exported from Dubai. India is one of the largest countries importing E-Waste from other developing countries and dumping it in Seas and oceans. This way of dumping is environmentally harmful.

The following map depicts e-waste imports and recycling sites in China and India.

Electronic Pollutants

The pollutants or toxins are concentrated in circuit boards, batteries, plastics and LCDs(liquid crystal displays). The main electronic components that act as source of toxins are arsenic semiconductors, diodes, microwaves, LEDs, solar cells, barium electron tubes, filler
for plastic and rubber, lubricant additives, cables proofing agent and PVC cables, cadmium batteries, chrome dyes, lead rechargeable batteries, lithium mobile telephones, nickel alloys, selenium photoelectric cells, etc.

The various elements used extensively in the electronic devices are chromium, mercury, beryllium, cadmium. Sulphuric acid and hydrochloric acids are also used in the electronic devices. The table below lists the various hazards and problems related to each.

Element Found in Problem Associated with
Chromium Used to protect metal housings and plates in a computer from corrosion Inhaling hexavalent chromium or chromium 6 can damage liver and kidneys and cause bronchial maladies. It causes asthmatic bronchitis and lung cancer.
Mercury It is released while breaking and burning of circuit boards and switches Affects the central nervous system, kidneys and immune system. It impairs the foetus growth Mercury in water forms methylated mercury through microbial activity and can enter the human food chain through water . It can trigger depression and suicidal tendencies and cause paralysis, Alzheimer’s disease, speech and vision impairment, allergies, hypospermia and impotence.
Beryllium Found in switches
boards and printed
circuit boards
Cacinogenic in nature and causes lung diseases
Cadmium Released in atmosphere
during crushing and
milling of plastics, CRTs
and circuit boards
Long term exposure causes Itai- itai disease
which causes severe pain in the joints and spine.
It affects the kidneys and softens the bones.
Lead Found in lithium
batteries, solar
transistors, PVC
The neurotoxin that affects the kidney and the reproductive system. It also affects the mental development in children.
Sulphuric Acid
Used to separate metals
from circuit boards
Their fumes contain chlorine and sulphur dioxide that causes respiratory problems and are to the eyes and skin
  Produce carcinogenic brominated dioxins and
furans. Dioxins harm the reproductive and
immune systems

Management of E-Waste

The conventional recycling process involves sorting, dismantling and recovery of valuable materials for reclamation like gold, copper and lead. A major challenge in this process is the recycling of the circuit board from the electronic waste since the circuit boards contain
precious metals as gold, silver, platinum, etc.

The recycling efficiency of the conventional method is low. Cryogenic decomposition is more suggested for the circuit boards. However, recycling raw materials from end-of-life electronics is the most effective solution to the growing e-waste problem.

India’s first Government authorized electronic waste recycler is E-Parisaraa Pvt. Ltd that handles and recycles the waste in eco friendly way. The objective of E-Parisaraa is to create an opportunity to transfer waste into socially and industrially beneficial raw materials like
valuable metals, plastics, and glass using simple, cost-efficient, homegrown, environment friendly technologies suitable to Indian Conditions.


The threat of electronic waste (e-waste) destroying the ecological health is looming large over India. E-waste from old computers is set to jump 400 percent within the next five years, while it is expected to increase seven times from 2007 levels within the next five years. Seven
states including Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, UP, West Bengal, Punjab and Karnataka generated 70 per cent of the total amount of e-waste. The Central Pollution Control Board  (CPCB’s) annual report also revealed that eight lakh tonnes of e-waste was
generated in 2012.

So, it is a high time that we should join our hands in putting efforts towards the e-waste management to save our environment from its hazards.

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