WEEE or e-waste, as we have already mentioned in other posts, is the set of electrical and electronic equipment that is discarded, including its by-products or consumables. This time we are going to talk about the environmental impact of e-waste and its correct management.
Environmental impact of e-waste
These electrical and electronic devices are a collection of materials and components, which may contain heavy metals and chemicals that are hazardous to the environment as well as to human and animal life. As an example, a mobile phone contains between 500 and 1,000 different components, including toxic substances.
Therefore, some of them are considered hazardous waste because they contain materials (such as mercury or nickel) that are highly polluting and harmful to human health and the environment. These include, according to the EWL code, CRT monitors and screens, air conditioners, discharge lamps, non-LED lamps and fluorescent lamps.
This is why it is very important to manage these wastes properly, through authorised management channels.
Hazardous components in WEEE
So, let's see what are those toxic substances and components that are found inside WEEE and which are dangerous.
Cadmium is a metal belonging to the transition element group, considered highly toxic, as it has the ability to accumulate in the environment. It is obtained as a by-product in the refining of minerals such as zinc, and can be found in rechargeable computer batteries, electrical contacts and watches.
Nickel is a very abundant chemical element, making up about 0.008% of the earth's crust. It can cause effects on the pulmonary and respiratory system, allergies or irritation, as well as being carcinogenic. It is considered toxic if it is in the form of inorganic nickel compounds in their oxidised, sulphated or soluble form. In other words, if poorly treated.
This other naturally occurring chemical element is found in the rock of the earth's crust. It is commonly used in flat screen monitors as a lighting device and in non-rechargeable batteries. In terms of its level of danger, mercury can affect the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the lungs and cause damage to the kidneys and eyesight. It is toxic even at very low levels.
Beryllium is a bivalent, toxic, grey, hard, light, brittle, bivalent alkaline earth chemical element. It is used in switches, transmitters and connectors. It is classified by the UN as a carcinogen, and inhalation of beryllium fumes and dusts can cause lung disease.
Lithium is also a chemical element that is considered dangerous as it causes nervous system disorders, respiratory failure and nausea. It is often used in batteries.
WEEE and electronic waste often end up in landfills. WEEE, if not disposed of in the right places and not treated in recycling plants, decomposes and releases the toxic substances it contains into the soil or water, triggering impacts on the environment.
WEEE is then transferred to an authorised manager, who sorts, stores, dismantles and decontaminates it. Afterwards, the material that can be used (plastic, glass, metals, etc.) is separated from the non-recyclable materials by shredding and reducing each material in a different way. What is recovered (up to 90% in the case of mobile phones, for example) is used as material to produce new parts or products. This is what the circular economy is based on, on saving raw materials that are extracted in the first place. Recycling e-waste is therefore essential.
We hope this post about the impact of e-waste on the environment has interested you. From ScrapAd, as a platform for scrap metal trading and other materials, we want to promote the proper management of any type of waste. Get to know us!