E-Waste does not only comprise the gadgets not in use. A large portion of it includes functional gadgets, but they become useless because the technology is developing very fast and people want the latest technology with more advanced features. When smart phones with advanced features arrived, people threw away their feature phones, pen drives restricted the use of DVDs, and the invention of smart televisions propelled normal TVs into E-waste. The craze for brands also makes people frequently replace their gadgets. All of these factors led to an increase in the E-Waste of the world. It has now become a big environmental challenge.
According to a report presented in the World Economic Forum, in the year 2021, 5.7 crore metric tons of E-Waste was generated. How huge this is can be visualized by the fact that the Great Wall of China would weigh less than that or the combined weight of our country’s population of 130 crore would weigh less than this heap. There is an increase in it every year. Experts estimated the figure to reach 7.5 crore metric ton by 2030, which is double the figure of 2014. These calculations were done before the pandemic. As during the pandemic, the use of technology and the number of gadgets in every household across the globe increased, the actual volume of e-waste now will be known only in the coming days.
This year, the countries with the highest volume of e-waste produced were China, USA and at the third position stands our country India. About 35 lakhs E-Waste was produced by our country last year.
Mumbai produces the largest E-Waste in India, followed by Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Pune, Surat and Nagpur, in that order. The problem of e-waste is mostly associated with urban areas and the 65 cities only produce 60% of the E-Waste in the country.
Electric and electronic items are mostly harmless while being in active use, but as they get buried under the ground they tend to become very dangerous. They consist of many poisonous elements, which after reacting with other elements in the soil may produce compounds harmful for the atmosphere, water, lives of humans and other living creatures. They get mixed with the water underground and may flow into rivers and other water sources. Some of them may also enter the air. The European Union has particularly specified and restricted the use of six chemicals which are highly poisonous: Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Hexavalent Chromium, PBB and PBDE.
An average computer screen comprises over 2-3 kilo of lead. According to a study, 40% of lead found in landfills in the USA is from computer screens.
Such waste when thrown on ground, causes harm in many ways.
1. E-Waste pollutes the soil.
The soil gets polluted first when electronic items laying on earth or buried in ground start breaking down. The poisonous elements mentioned earlier and the other chemicals from them get mixed with the soil. After reacting with each other, they produce dangerous compounds and pollute the soil.
2.E-Waste pollutes the water.
The poisonous elements from the soil get into underground water and the wells, borewells and springs get poisonous. The water then flows to other water bodies like rivers and lakes etc. Likewise, the whole water gets polluted. Some of these pollutants cannot be filtered out by any filter.
3.It affects the plants and animals.
Plants that grow into polluted soil, absorb the pollutants. Consequently, food items produced from them become poisonous. This poison enters the animals’ bodies through water and food. It becomes harmful for their lives. Human beings consume the meat of the same animals. The poison further gets transferred to them.
4.It pollutes the air
Due to chemical reactions, some of the items turn into gas and pollute the air. Many times, the garbage is burnt. The electronic waste after burning, releases hydro carbon and other dangerous gases and it makes the air poisonous. These gases add into the Greenhouse Gases that cause climate change. According to a report, in the year 2019, the waste from refrigerators and air conditioners alone produced carbon dioxide which is estimated to be 98 metric ton.
5.Crises of natural resources
Many precious natural resources are used in electronic items. When these items are wasted, the natural resources also get wasted. If 10 lakhs mobile phones are recycled, they can extract 16000-kilogram bronze, 350 kilo silver, 35 kilo gold, and about 50 kilo of palladium. It is estimated that the production of one computer monitor requires 2500 kilogram fuel, 22 kilo chemicals and 1.5 ton water. It implies that along with the disposal of mobile phones and monitors, a large amount of natural resources are also wasted.
The manufacturing of electronic items requires energy on a larger scale. If they are wasted the energy is also wasted. According to experts, by recycling one million laptops, we can save the amount of energy that is enough to cater to the needs of three thousand five hundred households for a year. Hence E-Waste plays an important role in building up the electrical crisis.
E-Waste can have a huge harmful impact on human health. Its harmful effects are more evident in people residing near the dumping sites or who collect the garbage. Others also get affected. Particles of heavy metals enter human bodies and may affect mental health. They can cause DNA breakdown resulting in fatal diseases like cancer and genetic abnormalities. They can harm the fetuses in the wombs of pregnant women and may cause premature birth, still birth, abnormal delivery and other such complications. Heavy metals can affect the growth of children and their health.
A few months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) released for the first time a detailed report on the effects of E-Waste on human health, especially children. The report warns that there is an ‘E-Waste Tsunami’ in the world and that it is now a serious threat to the lives of at least 12.5 million women and 17.5 million children. The report suggests that the efforts of similar magnitude should be taken for e-waste management as were made in the recent past to protect rivers and water bodies from plastics.
Irresponsible behavior and preventive measures
Developed countries send their E-Waste to poor countries under various pretexts. Poor countries ‘donated’ discarded computers and other used gadgets. Since recycling in poor countries is cheaper, they send their waste for recycling. Many countries send waste laptops and other electronic items for dumping purposes only. According to some estimates, developed countries transport 70-80% of their E-Waste to poor countries. Along with China, Malaysia, and many countries in Africa, our own country, India, is a major victim of this abuse.
Many devices can be reused after minor repair and refurbishing, but big companies obstruct these options as they affect the sales of their new products.
Various countries have taken steps to address issues related to E-Waste. Globally, the Basel Convention is an international treaty on harmful substances. This agreement covers most components of E-Waste. The purpose of this agreement is to properly manage the E-Waste, to take measures to avoid its harms, to help the poor countries in e-waste management etc. One of the main purposes of the agreement is to prevent rich countries from sending their waste to poorer countries and create environmental and public health problems. The treaty came into force in 1992 and has been ratified by 199 countries, but has not yet been ratified by the United States, a major E-waste producer and major e-waste exporter.
In addition to other existing environmental protection laws, the E-Waste Management and Handling Rules 2011 were enacted a few years ago in our country. Necessary additions have been made to them twice and now the act with amendment till 2018, is in force. These regulations specify the responsibilities of the manufacturers, sellers, collectors and recyclers of e-waste, state governments and the general public. In this regard, the Pollution Control Boards have been given special powers and targets have been set for the recycling of e-waste. But like other laws in our country, the implementation of these laws on the ground level is a big problem.
This is one of the serious problems created by our present materialistic civilization. Fear of God, a responsible life, and a moral attitude based on solid faith are essential to solve these problems. Believers can play an important role in solving these problems. We think there is a need to raise awareness and mobilize the public with regard to the following:
- Avoiding extravagance and living a simple life
Like other environmental issues, the biggest cause of this problem is lavish, extravagant, consumerist and luxurious lifestyles. Simple and responsible lifestyle is the basic solution to this problem. Allah Almighty has given us wealth so we think that we can spend it as we wish. But we forget that through extravagance we not only waste our money but also the resources given by Allah as a trust. These resources are for all mankind and our future generations. With our extravagance we create difficulties for the lives of our children and future generations. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) commanded us to use water carefully even while performing ablutions from flowing rivers. This high morality of Islam cannot allow the kind of senseless misuse and overuse of things, we all have become accustomed to.
It is necessary to bring awareness that electronic goods should be used sparingly. Do not allow excess of unnecessary items. If one computer can work, don’t go for another one. If any gadget can be shared by many members of a family, do not buy the extra one even if you can easily afford it.
Try to maximize the life of the items in use and make the most of them. For this, pay attention to the cleanliness of the equipment, their proper maintenance, timely repair, etc. Do not overcharge the phone. Use the laptop carefully. Use caution when handling washing machines, refrigerators, ovens, etc. Prevent the damages to them. People from a prosperous family don’t feel the need for these precautions. Of course, this may not be of much benefit to you personally, but with this responsible use, we will be able to play our part in protecting this earth and its environment created by Allah.
- Responsible buying.
- Recycling and refurbishing.
We have to be responsible when buying electronic goods. The way we look for the quality, features and price of the product, we also have to look at the environmental and ecological impact value of that product. Eco-friendly shopping and eco-friendly consumption are the popular concepts in the world right now. When buying something, be sure to check out the ‘Environment Friendly’ label. Buy items that last longer. Be sure to buy protection gear as well. If you have a phone, screen guard and cover, machine cover, antivirus, stabilizer, cleaning products, etc., so that your electronics can run for a long time and you do not increase the waste. Sometimes a multi-functional machine is more environment friendly than multiple machines. For example, three separate machines printer, scanner and copier will generate more waste than a single machine that performs all three functions, air conditioners with heating function should be preferable over AC plus separate room heater, etc.
This is the most important thing that can reduce the loss of E-Waste. Only 17% of the world’s e-waste is being recycled. The remaining 83% is accumulated in the garbage heaps and in the soil, causing the above mentioned damages. 50 tons of Mercury alone, a valuable resource, is being lost annually. Iron, brass, silver, gold, these are all very valuable natural resources that can be recycled but are being wasted by discarded electronic goods.
Everyone needs to participate in recycling of goods. Governments have a responsibility to make strict laws in this regard. Countries such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have enacted laws mandating electronics manufacturing companies to ensure that at least seventy-five percent of their products are recycled. Similar laws can be made in other countries.
It is the responsibility of the manufacturing companies and sellers to make the buyer return the old items before selling them the new ones. They can come out with attractive exchange offers and can give other incentives.
It is the responsibility of the buyer to manage recycling of the old item before purchasing a new one. Never throw it in the trash. In our country, it is now the legal responsibility of ordinary buyers to dispose of electronic waste properly.
For this purpose, there are government-approved electronic waste disposal centers in every city. Instead of throwing the waste in the garbage, we must take it to these centers so that it can be recycled. The following link on the Pollution Control Board’s website lists the centers across the country. You can easily find the nearest center in your city from here.
E-Waste can also be returned by calling the company that has manufactured the item. Legally, it is the responsibility of each manufacturer to accept the waste and arrange for its recycling. Many companies also run special campaigns for the same.
Awareness among children and women:
The most effective way to bring about change at the social level on these issues is to bring awareness among children and women. The management of the house is in the hands of women and in such cases the children are very enthusiastic and if they understand the issue they will follow the good practices actively and also make other people in the house follow. Therefore, when children and women wake up, people’s habits can be changed.
Our religious responsibility
It is our religious responsibility to protect humanity from destruction and to protect the God-given resources of life. Human beings are the caliphs of Allah on the Earth and the trustees of the resources of the universe. Allah says in the Qur’an:
(6:165) For He it is Who has appointed you vicegerent over the earth, and has exalted some of you over others in rank that He may try you in what He has bestowed is upon you. Indeed your Lord is swift in retribution, and He is certainly All Forgiving, All-Compassionate.
It is very immoral to harm other human beings with one’s lifestyle and Islam strongly condemns it. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Whoever harms anyone, Allah will harm him and whoever harms others, Allah will harm him.
” The teachings of Islam demand that the strongest voice on such issues should be raised by Muslims and they should be the most vibrant torch bearers of environmental protection. But unfortunately Muslims are not only ignorant of these issues but are also contributors to the crisis. There is a need for Muslim women to understand this issue and take part in the campaign to awaken the whole society in this regard.