Electronic Waste: Management Practices and Techniques

Every person has a smartphone and laptop. No doubt, electronic equipment has made our life easy. Growth in the electronic sector has enhanced the production of electronic waste. Electronic waste is an exponentially growing waste worldwide. According to EPA, 7 million of e-waste is discarded each year. Management of e-waste has become a worldwide challenge. The management of electric waste has become crucial because of its negative impacts on the environment and health. This article would give an insight into modern technologies for the management of e-waste. Before getting into the topic, let’s learn what electronic waste is and why its leadership has become more significant in recent years. Electronic waste at a Glance! Electronic equipment is widely used everywhere in our life. IT and communication sectors evolve each day and upgrade their products. To name a few, electronic equipment used in our daily life are computers, laptops, mobile phones, and kitchen products. With graduation, consumers discard their old electronic product that adds to the e-waste. Toxic materials are present in electrical products such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The magnitude of health risk from these materials is high. Moreover, the waste material causes environmental damage. That’s the reason, management of electronic waste becomes necessary. There are no advanced technologies yet that are developed for the management of e-waste. However, some management practices for e-waste that have been used worldwide are listed down below.

Recycling 1 million laptops could save energy up to the electricity consumed in 3657 houses.

Practices of Electronic Waste Management:

Waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) is growing vastly and requires innovative management solutions. They are classified into different categories such as photovoltaic panels, Liquid crystal display, Cathode ray tubes, computers, and cellphones. Each category has different materials that have their recycling rate. Recovery of materials is the main management practice for electronic waste. Latest technologies have been employed to recover the materials, such as the recovery of metals nanoparticles, hydrometallurgical recovery of metals, recovery of circuit boards through Pyrometallurgy, and recycling of e-waste.
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  1. Bio recovery of metal Nanoparticles from e-waste
  2. Hydrometallurgical recovery of metals from PCBs
  3. Recovery of materials through Pyrometallurgy
  4. Incineration
  5. Reduce and Reuse
  6. Electronic waste recycling

1 – Bio recovery of metal Nanoparticles from e-waste:

Bio recovery means the use of green products to synthesize nanoparticles from waste. Bioleaching is a process of recovery of metal nanoparticles with the help of plants and microbes. Microorganisms produce metal nanoparticles using their biological mechanism. Chromobacterium violaceum is a bacterial species that could be used to recover gold and copper from waste. Another study has used the Pseudomonas aeruginosa to recover gold from electronic scrap waste. The biosynthesized nanoparticles have their applications in food, medicine, textile, and agricultural field. The microorganisms-mediated electronic waste recycling method is cost-effective and minimizes the wastage of valuable products.

2 – Hydrometallurgical recovery of metals from PCBs:

The hydrometallurgical process uses chemicals such as acids to extract metals from e-waste, especially PCBs. PCBs are electronic circuits present in electric devices to provide mechanical support. Simply, the coating of Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) is removed before the hydrometallurgical treatment. Then hydrochloric acid (HCl) is used to leached the metals from waste. An increase in the concentration of acid will decrease the time required for the recovery of metal. It is a promising hydrometallurgical process that could recover all of the metals at room temperature. This technique could help to manage the burden of e-waste by recovering valuable materials.

3 – Recovery of materials through Pyrometallurgy:

In this process, the precious materials are recovered from waste with the principle of smelting at a very high temperature. Incinerations, combustion, and pyrolysis are also pyrometallurgical methods to obtain metals. Elements that can be recovered are oxides of iron, magnesium, zinc, and chromium, etc. The basic principle is quite simple, where minerals and metallurgical ores are treated thermally. High temperatures bring physical and chemical transformation and recover precious metals. However, the process is not environmentally friendly. So its viability is still under a question mark!

4 – Incineration:

Incineration is an advantageous practice in managing e-waste as it reduces the volume of waste. Energy can be obtained from combustible material. Moreover, incineration converts hazardous substances into less harmful substances. However, emissions are produced that might be responsible for air pollution.

5 – Reduce and Reuse:

The first and foremost practice to manage all kinds of waste is to reduce its consumption, reuse it, or recycle it. This approach could manage half of the problem. By reducing electronic waste, we mean not substituting your cell phone whenever a company launches a new phone or series. Similarly, reuse means giving it to anyone else rather than throwing it away if you’re not willing to use a product. Recycling e-waste is a single common practice used worldwide.

6 – Electronic waste recycling:

E-waste recycling is one of the prominent practices to manage electric waste. Electronic waste has many components, including metals that are recyclable. These metals can recover successfully and could be employed as raw materials in other industries. Picture this; recycling of 1 million cellphones would recover 35,274 lbs. of copper, 75 lbs. of gold, and 772 lbs. of silver. Furthermore, recycling 1 million laptops could save energy up to the electricity consumed in 3657 houses. This way, the burden of e-waste could be reduced. Exponentially growing e-waste could be managed by a collaboration of government, policymakers, and end-users. Initiatives at the policy level, such as reducing the production of waste and recycling, can minimize the waste. A great responsibility lies on both producers and consumers to reduce waste. Lastly, awareness among the masses would help significantly to manage the waste.

Conclusion:

Electronic waste is an emergent environmental problem that the present world is facing. The magnitude of this problem and its risks would be great in the future because of the large production of a variety of electronic products. The behaviour of consumer and producers play a crucial role in piling mountains of waste. Since it’s an emergent environmental hazard, innovative technologies confined only to the management of e-waste are not yet developed. So, some technologies for recovering valuable materials from waste are now practiced around the world. These practices include recycling e-waste, incineration, recovery of Nano metals particle, and hydrometallurgy. Besides all these, awareness for a reduction in production and consumption would prove promising steps for managing electric waste.