Issue at hand: Discarded Computer Components: Whose problem is it?
Experts estimate that about 1 billion computers will be discarded by 2010. The discarded items are known as e-waste. As technology advances and prices fall, many people think of computers as disposable item. Computers can contain several toxic elements, including le, mercury and barium. You and your team's discussion should focus on the potential for discarded computers and other electronic devices to become a significant environmental problem. What can be done to ensure that computers are disposed safely? Should government, manufacturers or users be responsible for safe disposal? Why? How can computer users be motivated to recycle obsolete equipment?
E-waste is Everyone's Responsibility
According to Malaysia's Department of Environment, e-waste is defined as electronic waste from electronic products containing components such as lead, mercury, chromium found in circuit boards, batteries as well as color cathode ray tubes more commonly referred to as CRTs. In short, e-waste is also referring to electronics nearing the end of their 'life' and becoming obsolete. Components in electronics are actually hazardous materials full with toxic capable of putting health and environment at risk. For example, mercury in electronics has long been the leading source contributing to public waste. Other than that, brominated flame, another material usually added to plastics in electronics has been banned in Europe because of their toxicity and persistence.
Due to the advancement in technology, people rarely repair broken electronics and rather buy new ones and dispose the old. However, in reality, e-waste dumping has become a fast-growing sector in terms of garbage waste for various countries. It will soon become an epidemic with global consequences. The issue concerned is also regarding the shipping of e-waste illegally to countries like India, China and Nigeria, where these toxic while waiting for the scheduled recycling process at the same time is poisoning the residents and polluting the environment there.
Therefore, the ultimate question is whose problem is it? In our opinion, stopping e-waste should is everyone's responsibility. This is because in a long term, the hazardous effects will only be harmful to all and nothing beneficial is gained out of it. Furthermore, global issues can only be overcome by global awareness and global actions. For example, citing a research firm Gartner - "37 million secondary PCs were refurbished and exported to emerging markets last year, and this is expected to hit 69 million by 2012". Among the methods discussed in order to stop e-waste is as below.
Ø Reuse and Donate
Ø As the saying goes "prevention is better than cure". Hence, preventing waste is the first option where waste can be reused instead. For example, old or unwanted electronics can be donated for reuse to those who cannot afford them. Also, donating can extend the product 'life' and maintain them from going to waste that soon.
Ø Another option is to send these e-wastes to organizations facilitating the recycling process. This eventually avoids pollution and also reduces energy.
Ø The public should be educated about this global issue faced by all in a large scale as people are not aware of the seriousness of this matter. For effectiveness, this wide topic of discussion should be involved in schools, colleges and universities where related to the technology-savvy field as part of their syllabus to instill the realization at the earlier stage.
Ø Awareness Campaigns
Ø Other than that, awareness campaigns should be launched by governments, non-profit organizations or well-established companies to raise awareness among public and electronic users on the effects of e-waste and their effort in tackling them for global benefit.
Ø Widely emphasis R & D (research and development) for e-waste prevention
Specifically, some actions have been taken around the world to come together and tackle this global issue. As mentioned, stopping e-waste is everyone's responsibility! For example, in Malaysia itself, various actions were taken once the seriousness of e-waste if acknowledged. In terms of the law and regulation, director of hazardous substances division from the DOE (Department of Envrionment) has categorized e-waste as scheduled wastes under code SW 110, First Schedule, Environmental Quality Regulations 2005. Furthermore, Malaysia being one of the member of the Basel Convention, all import and exports of waste of any sort must follow the enforced procedures by the convention. Any import or export need written approval from the DOE under Section 34B(1)(b) and (c) of the EQA 1974. Following this, officers are also stationed at Port Klang and Johor Bahru to monitor and control any attempts of illegal e-waste into the country. If charged guilty, imprisonment not more than 5 years and fine not more than RM 500,000 is imposed. As for companies like Nokia, HP and Samsung in Malaysia, they also participate in stopping e-waste by offering incentives to their customers if they return used products for recycling purposes.
As for other countries, for example, Sony Canada launched a widespread take-back program for all their products that are 'life-ending' or becoming obsolete. Customers can drop the items off at any Sony retail stores in Canada without making any purchases beforehand. The famous Ebay also started the campaign known as "Rethink Initiative Campaign" which focused on encouraging public to sell their old electronics and not throwing them away! They also provide convenient location to donate / recycle any products.
In conclusion, e-waste definitely has the potential in polluting the environment and also affecting health if they are not properly handled for disposal. All these electronics when its toxins are leaked can pose global environmental risks. As reported by the EPA (Environment Protection Agency), up to 70% of lead mercury and cadmium contamination is contributed by electronic products. Hence, we strongly feel that everyone being the government, public residents, companies, non-profit organizations, education industry, everyone should acknowledge and strive to stop e-waste!