Piling layers of Electronic Waste is one of the major issues faced by the world. It contaminates the environment, wastes resources and causes various health hazards. Best way to solve any problem is to strike at the source of the problem. In this scenario of e-waste, where we can’t eliminate the source completely, we can still do a lot by simply following 3R’s of Environmental Sustainability in proper sequence. Below is the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) recommended way of solid waste management hierarchy; it can further be used for all sorts of wastes including Electronic Waste.
Reduce Consumption of Electronics
Begin with avoiding electrical appliances you don’t need. Reduce the frequency of changing old electronics and purchasing new ones just because they are the latest version or they are affordable. Most preferred way to consume is minimizing our consumption by shifting to well-designed devices. Clearly the less we buy and use, the less we have to reuse & recycle. This will not only save your financial resources but also help in conservation of natural resources. Here are few simple ways in which you can easily Reduce the consumption:
a) Share electrical appliances – You don’t need one television per room or different music systems for all your kids. Minimize your dependence on electronics for entertainment and inculcate sharing habits among family and friends.
b) Purchase Multitasking Appliances – Invest in quality devices that can perform various tasks instead of buying n number of electronics for every single chore.
c) Do Proper research – Read reviews and buy well designed electronics. It is suggested to go for one time quality product, which comes with higher durability, instead of buying something that is just fancy or inexpensive.
The second most preferable R is Reuse. Reuse can be defined as – Utilizing the product/item in its original form, often with just little parts repaired and/or replaced to make it fit to be used again. Re-usage of any electrical/electronic device can be done by the same person who owns it or someone else. One can resell or donate their old gadgets for reuse. There are many organizations that provide platforms for the reselling of used products so that they can be further reused. If you don’t want to resell then you may donate it to someone in need. Again, there are number of sites that accept old electronics as donation and promote reuse.
Some of the reasons why the reuse of electronics is important:
1. Reuse keeps toxic materials out of the waste stream.
2. Reuse preserves the energy that was used to manufacture the original device.
3. Reuse creates less pollution when compared to making something new or recycling.
4. Reuse creates new employment opportunities.
Here is a more specific example of how reusing can help-
Reusing just one computer with a CRT monitor can save
1. 7,719 kilowatts of energy;
2. 30 pounds of hazardous waste & 77 pounds of solid waste;
3. 17.5 gallons of water & 32 tons of air from being polluted;
4. Prevent 1,333 pounds of CO2 emission as per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Recycling is a process in which the equipment are dismantled, sellable parts are sold, remaining plastic and metals are melted and kept aside to be reused in the production of new devices. Recycling is beneficial when you talk about saving Earth’s resources instead of dumping them in landfills and polluting land, air and water. Here are some of the important benefits of Recycling-
1. Recycling helps to keep surroundings cleaner and healthier.
2. Recycling saves landfill space and money.
3. Recycling saves the energy required to manufacture new products by recovering the material from old electronics.
4. Recycling cuts down the demand for mining new resources, by providing raw material from old products.
Here is a more specific example of how recycling can help-
Recycling 1 million cell phones can allow recovery of:
1. 35,274 pounds of copper;
2. 772 pounds of silver;
3. 75 pounds of gold;
4. 33 pounds of palladium
Recycling 1 million laptops can save enough amount of energy that can provide electricity to 3,657 U.S. homes for a year.
Reuse versus Recycle
Recycling is considered lower in waste management hierarchy as compared to Reduction and Reuse because it includes reducing electronics into scrap material. This scrap material is used to create brand-new items. Manufacturing a new device is more energy intensive process when compared to reuse. It can also have greater environmental impact and can produce more pollutants. Here are some reasons, why reusing is considered preferable over recycling.
• Recycling requires electronics to be transported to the plant, which requires substantial amount of energy.
• Manufacturing new devices from recovered materials further utilizes more energy and it can still pollute the environment.
• Recycling when compared to Reusing is expensive.
When it comes to Energy Saving, Money Saving and Saving Environment then Reusing overpowers Recycling.
So before you think of recycling, think of the ways in which you can reuse your old electronics. It will help you save money and minimize your carbon footprint on the planet. However, if the product is broken beyond repair/reuse then you must recycle it instead of dumping in the landfill.