The world of IT is the fast growing one with new gadgets making way into the market every day, be it laptops, phones or personal computers. Rapid development in technology is encouraging equally rapid abandonment of old models of gadgets of personal use. All that's recyclable and considered a 'waste' is landing in Asia's or Africa's backyard.
And, while constant upgrades are keeping the market vibrant, they are also crying for something more crucial. That is safe disposal of e-waste.
The need for safe disposal is a major challenge for both developed and developing countries, making handling of e-waste both environmental and health concern.
Because, when west dumps its e-waste in the backyards of China or India, people living in those areas, or the children rummaging through the waste matter, are inhaling the harmful fumes, and risking their future.
What comprises e-waste? Old computers, key boards, screens, batteries, hard drives etc make up for that matter and they invariably land in Asia to either be destroyed, recycled or turn into landfill. Because the cost of recycling in 'rich' countries is very high; and hence is not a plausible option.
Apart from the west, developing countries produce enormous amount of e-waste as well. Countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines have begun to discard significant amounts of e-waste in their own sites. Asia also sees 'receiving' e-waste as a profitable solution owing to the fact that valuable materials are salvaged during the recycling process.
Two main destinations which are at the 'receiving end' primarily are China and India which increasingly employ children to scavenge, find glass, plastic and precious metals (such as the gold used on the circuit boards within most electronics) from old computers that can be reused or recycled. Even smaller countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar have also turned into digital dump yards.
What countries do with their own dump yards is something that the individual country has to take a call on, whether it is a developed nation or developing one. This has to be done with a sense of immediacy because the future of small children across the nations is involved in this.
This apart, there is also a threat of data security with the current method of disposing waste. The data e-waste carries is embedded in its data storage areas. Whether it is a phone, or a hard drive of a laptop, the data that's present inside is susceptible and accessible. People need to be aware of the dangers of forensic data retrieval software poses to their private data. Because, a data doesn't just disappear when you click 'reset' or 'format' button! Though this isn't looming large at the moment, it would certainly grow into one if ignored.
West can probably look at better solutions to dispose e-waste, coupled with responsibility, for its own good in order to ensure environment or the lives of people are not compromised upon.
Gregory Bassett of Bozowi, a UK-based company which specializes in handling of e-waste says the problem with this issue is larger than what meets the eye. He says: "There are many environmental negatives that come with the miss-handling of e-waste but the main ones are the emissions that are given off when they are "melted down" and the contamination that takes place with the ground water -- which can and does routinely harm entire towns and villages."
Though the initial costs would be high, west may need to lead the path by showing the way to handle the issue. The biggest challenge right now is about raising awareness with the public.
"There are many companies that don't handle the waste properly due to lax regulations in their country or a complete lack of enforcement at all", says Bassett. "But, learning to handle e-waste is just a matter of time and sensitivity regarding the matter."
When companies in the west take responsibility to dispose the e-waste, they are shipping them off in containers into developing nations. Instead of this, ensuring the disposal process is done in a rather congruous manner will probably go a long way in ensuring environment is protected. To ensure proper disposal of waste, companies could explore the possibilities of inspecting the facilities of a new e-waste managers, to ensure that the waste is going through the proper processes. Proper transportation of e-waste will then just be a logistical issue which can be done very well.
Just as innovation drives the technology sector, it is also time that the same innovative bent of mind helps the case of e-waste as well. For instance, 'Bozowi' has an innovative approach to the whole issue. The company offers money as an incentive to recycle as opposed to discard.
Companies can also help with the process of finding a reliable source abroad that will follow guidelines to ensure that waste is handled properly when users can't reuse items. This can be an excellent example of how things can be done through minimal damage to the environment.