Lecture’s Name: Essay Example

3) The information revolution of the last decade has meant that there are so many more powered devices in our homes and lives. At what cost is this increase to our environment? Furthermore, are there any companies or organisations trying to offset this somehow?

Lecture’s Name:

Impact of Powered Devices on Environment

1.0 Introduction

The technological growth in the telecommunications industry and home appliances has greatly contributed to the development of various electrical and electronic gadgets such as personal computers and mobile phones. However, this has come at an expense especially in regard to environmental degradation owing to their short life span (Robinson, 2009, p.183). Most of these devices once their end of shelf life has expired find their way into landfills as electronic waste with minimal amount being recycled yet they contain harmful substances such as mercury and lead which have grave consequences on the environment (Sepúlveda et al., 2010, p.28).

The aim of this paper is to assess the impact of the increased powered devices/ electronics in households and economy at large to the environment. Secondly, using various case examples, the paper outlines how certain organisations have attempted at limiting impact of the electronic wastes associated with the powered devices. In this regard, the paper examines how electronic wastes derived from electronics that their life span has expired. The paper argues that electronic wastes contribute to atmospheric pollution and releases of toxic waste that can leach and contaminate water bodies and food chains.

2.0 Powered Devices, Electronic Wastes and Generation of Electronic Wastes

2.1 Powered Devices

Electronic devices and equipments constitute the huge portion of powered devices within households as such, powered devices in households can be contextualised within the discourse of electrical and electronic gadgets/ equipments. The underlying technology of powering these devices is reliant of semiconductors materials such as silicon which are connected to build an electronic circuit. These powered devices can either be personal electronic devices such as DVD players, portable electronic devices such GSM phones and computerised electronic devices such as laptops (Gaidajis, Angelakoglou & Aktsoglou, 2010, p.193).

2.2 Electronic Wastes

Electronic wastes are unwanted electronic products that have surpassed their shelf life (Pinto,2008, p.72). According to Huo et al. (2007, p.1113) electronic or e-waste disposal is emerging as a global environmental concern as they are currently constituting one of the largest chunks of municipal waste. Ongondo, Williams & Cherrett (2011, p.715) observes that the rate at which electrical and electronic waste is being emitted has grown exponentially in organisations for economic cooperation and development countries which is experiencing a saturation in regard to huge amount of new electronic devices. See appendix 1 for example of electronic wastes.

According to Echo Watch (2013), the amount of computers, mobile phones, television and other personalised and computerised electronic gadgets being disposed depicts at alarming trend. For instance, in 2012, 50 million tons of e-waste was emitted globally. By 2017, the volume of e-waste generated annually at global level is expected to rise by 33%, thereby hitting 65 million tons of e-waste. In absolute terms, China generated 11.1 million tons of e-waste, thereby making it the highest generator of e-waste. This is closely followed by US who emitted 10 million tons of e-waste.

2.2 Generation of Electronic waste

The contribution of these powered devices to generation of electronic wastes falls within two domains. In the first instance, these devices are manufactured with various components sourced from various materials and chemicals. Some of these are poisonous while some are not. For instance, they might include metals, non-ferrous metals and ferrous metals (Ongondo, Williams & Cherrett, 2011, p.715). Additionally, electronic gadgets such as monitors and other micro chip equipments contain harmful chemicals such as mercury and lead which can cause poisoning to animals and water bodies (Shah & Shaikh, 2008, p.4).

The issue surrounding electronic waste is the volume being generated as compared to the amount that is being recycled so as to reduce the large quantities in landfill and harmful waste emission. For instance, an estimated 20 million of household appliance and 70 million mobile phones are discarded annually after attaining end-of-life annually in China yet more are still being churned out into the market (Griffith University). The e-waste emission rate at global level annually expands with 4% yet most economy’s recovery/ recycling rate averages 13-20% (Causes International, 2014).

Further, 271 million personal computers were sold in 2007 and it is estimated that by 2015 2 billion PCs shall be in the market and equally, it was established that from 1997-2007, 500 million computers became obsolete in US yet the current realisation is that computer life span has significantly reduced from 6/4 years to 2 years. The same is being experience in mobile phones. For instance, in 2006 it is estimated that 130 million phones in US 105 million in Europe are thrown away (Griffith University, 2014). See appendix 2.

Secondly, electronic wastes are generated from powered devices owing to advancement in technology which forces consumers to have the urge to ‘upgrade’ their devices to new stylish ones (Shah & Shaikh, 2008, p.4). For instance it has been established that “Australians upgrade or exchange their mobile phones every 18 months, meaning there are approximately 16 million unused mobile phones stashed away at home or in office” (Griffith University, 2014). Closely related to this is the end of the lifecycle of a product which implies it has to be disposed off. For instance, it is estimated that the life span of a phone is seven years while that of personal computer is two years (Griffith University, 2014). This implies that at the end of that year these devices have to be disposed off.

3.0 Impact of Powered Devices on Environment

3.1 Impact of Electronic Waste on Environment

The issues identified above have varying impact on the environment. Robinson (2009, p.183) notes that the impact of electronic wastes burned or deposited in landfills occurs in five domains. In the first instance is through smoke. This is especially true where burning is involved. Secondly, atmospheric quality is interfered with through dust. Thirdly, elements such as mercury normally find their way into food chain and water bodies.

One of the impacts of electronic waste on environment is through atmospheric pollution. This is mostly evident during the process of burning and dismantling the wastes (Sepúlveda et al., 2010, p.36). Communication Commission of Kenya (2010) observes that most recycling processes employ rudimentary approaches such open burning which heavily contribute to the release of toxic substances into the environment such as lead-tin fumes and particulate materials in the air (p.18).

For instance, SECRETARIAT (2011, p.21) states that toxic components within electronic waste such as “cadmium & lead in the circuit boards; polychlorinated biphenyls in older capacitors and transformers; and brominated flame retardants on printed circuit board, plastic casing, cables and PVC cable insulation releases highly toxic dioxins and furans when burned to retrieve copper from the wires”.

The second environmental issue surrounding the electronic waste is the poisonous substances within these devices. The impact of such issue is contamination of the soil (Communication Commission of Kenya, 2010, p.18). Within this domain, Clean Up Australia (2009, p.1) indicates that e-wastes sent to landfills contain poisonous components that have the possibility to leach into the ground. The possible impacts of such happenings include contamination of groundwater and contamination of soil which can ultimately end up in food chains.

Shah & Shaikh (2008, p.4) indicates that most of these gadgets such as mobile phone, TV, monitors and batteries contains toxic wastes such as cobalt, mercury, polyvinyl chloride, lead, arsenic, manganese and cadium. For instance, nearly 70% of the heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium in US landfills are derived from electronic wastes. On the other hand, within the landfills of US, 40% of lead is derived from electronic waste. Additionally, it was found out that in the 700 million phones that had become obsolete and discarded in 2005 had an approximate 560, 000 kilograms of lead (Griffith University, 2014).

From the above, the realisation is that the most toxic chemicals in most electronic wastes are the heavy metals such as mercury and lead. These two have the possibility of finding their way into food chains and kill other organisms. For instance, lead mixed with acidic waters which is a common occurrence in landfills has high levels of toxicity to plants and animals. Equally inorganic mercury can be converted to methylated mercury if exposed to natural where it concentrates into sediments and subsequently accumulates in living things (Horne & Gertsakis, 2006, p.25).

A case example of how electronic wastes can contaminate soils and surface water is Guiyu. For instance, in Nanyang river that is situated close to Guiyu, it was found out that PBDEs had bioaccumulated to a concentration of 766 ng/g. animals in the same water also exhibited high levels of PBDEs. The same experience is replicated in the soils surrounding recycling areas. For instance, soils in a slum in Bangalore where e-waste recycling was being conducted recorded 39 mg/kg Cd, 4.6 mg/kg In, 957 mg/kg Sn, 180 mg/kg Sb 49 mg/kg Hg, 2850 mg/kg Pb, and 2.7 mg/kg Bi. Agricultural soils in Guiyu recorded a concentration of 4250 ng/g PBDEs (Robinson, 2009, p.188).

Apart from these toxic wastes, most electronic devices contain parts that are not biodegradable and if not recycled as it with the present trend where there is minimal recycling contributes to eyesore. For instance, Ongondo, Williams & Cherrett (2011, p.715) notes that owing the diversity of these gadgets, their material composition varies with an estimation that there are over 1000 materials within these electronic wastes. However, most of these waste electrical and electronic equipments consist of metals, ferrous metals, glass, non-ferrous metals, plastics and other materials.

The final issue relates to energy consumption. Sustainability debate and environmental concerns has placed utilisation of energy as key in limiting environmental impact. Use of non-renewable energy source that are not clean or emits green house gases have contributed to growth of global warming and climate change. For instance, Schwarzer et al. (2005 cited in Griffith University) observes that “manufacturing a computer and its screen takes at least 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of chemicals and 1.5 tonnes of water”.

4.0 Organisations engaged in Managing Electronic Wastes

Owing to the realisation of the grave impact posed by electronic wastes, there are various organisations that are engaged in trying to offset these negative trends. These organisations are international in nature, regional in nature, national in nature, research & academic institutions, nongovernmental organisations and business organisations seeking to attain sustainability in their operations as part of their corporate social responsibility.

The first organisation is the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). This is an international body and their entry point in curtailing negative effects is research and develops appropriate best technologies in recycling electronic wastes. Equally, they develop global policies on how electronic wastes should be handled. For instance, transfer of electronics from developed economies to developed ones so as to limit carbon foot print (UNEP, 2009).

The other player in this sector is Electronics Take Back Coalition based in USA. The aim of this organisation is offer information especially statistical ones on the electronic wastes. Apart from this, the organisation offers important information to municipalities and other waste management agencies on how to undertake electronic waste recycling (Electronics Take Back Coalition, 2013).

The next non government organisation that is working of electronic wastes is the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association in collaboration by Mobile Muster located in Australia. Their engagement in relation to wastes is on collection of mobile phones that their life span has expired. Their main focus is to ensure that these mobile phones that not being used do not end up in landfills of Australia. This has seen them since 1998 collect 7.79 million mobile phones. Once these phones are collected, one step is either to recycle or to safely dispose off as opposed to direct disposal to the municipal landfills. In given circumstances, where the phones are still services, they ship them to deserving quarters of the society across the globe (Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, 2014).

5.0 Conclusion

The aim of this paper was to examine the impact of powered devices on the environment. In this context, the powered devices are contextualised as electronic equipments and thus, the debate revolved around electronic wastes. As such the ultimate premise was to establish the impact of electronic waste on environment. The paper established that electronic wastes have massive impact on environment through toxic elements released from it either through burning or through reacting by acidic rain in landfills. The paper realised that most impact stems from heavy metals such as mercury and lead which contaminates soils and surface water can be transferred into food chains. Equally, the premise of the paper was to assess the organisations involved in countering these negative impacts. The paper realised there numerous organisations that are international in nature, regional, national, and business organisation and non-governmental in nature dealing with the phenomenon.


Causes International (2014). Is e-Waste a growing concern? Retrieved on 28 May, 2014 from: http://www.causesinternational.com/ewaste/e- waste-facts.

Clean Up Australia (September, 2009). E-Waste Fact Sheet. Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from: http://www.cleanup.org.au/PDF/au/clean-up- australia—e-waste-factsheet-final.pdf.

Communication Commission of Kenya (2010). E-waste: impacts, challenges and the role of government, service providers and the consumers workshop. Held at Ole Sereni Hotel, Nairobi -Kenya 9th -10th June 2010.

Echo Watch (December 23, 2013). Worldwide Electronic Waste to Reach 65 Million Tons by 2017. Retrieved on 28 May, 2014 from: http://ecowatch.com/2013/12/23/worldwide-electronic-waste-to- reach-65-million-tons/.

Electronics take back Coalition (2013). Facts and Figures on E-Waste and Recycling. Retrieved on 28 May, 2014 from: http://www.electronicstakeback.com/wp- content/uploads/Facts_and_Figures_on_EWaste_and_Recycling.pdf.

Gaidajis, G., Angelakoglou, K., & Aktsoglou, D. (2010). E-waste: environmental problems and current management. Journal of Engineering Science and Technology Review, 3(1), 193-199.

Griffith University (2014). Facts and figures. Retrieved on 28 May, 2014 from: http://www.griffith.edu.au/engineering-information- technology/e-waste-research-group/facts-figures.

Horne, R. E., & Gertsakis, J. (2006). Literature Review on the Environmental and Health Impacts of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. Relatório preparado para Ministry for the Environment New Zealand Government.

Huo, X., Peng, L., Xu, X., Zheng, L., Qiu, B., Qi, Z., … & Piao, Z. (2007). Elevated blood lead levels of children in Guiyu, an electronic waste recycling town in China. Environmental Health Perspectives, 115(7), 1113-1117.

Industrial Sector Studies: Recycling- from e-waste to resources. Available at: http://www.unep.org/pdf/Recycling_From_e- waste_to_resources.pdf.

Jefferies, D. (April 2, 2014). 50m tonnes of e-waste generated every year – and it is increasing. The Guardian. Retrieved on 28 May, 2014 from: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/50m-tonnes- ewaste-designers-manufacturers-recyclers-electronic-junk.

Ongondo, F. O.,Williams, I. D. & Cherrett, T. J. (2011). How are WEEE doing? A global review of the management of electrical and electronic wastes. Waste Management, 31(1), 714-730.

Pinto, V. N. (2008). E-waste hazard: The impending challenge. Indian journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 12(2), 65.

Robinson, B. H. (2009). E-waste: an assessment of global production and environmental impacts. Science of the total environment, 408(2), 183- 191.

SECRETARIAT, R. S. (2011). E-WASTE IN INDIA. May 28, 2014 from: http://rajyasabha.nic.in/rsnew/publication_electronic/E- Waste_in_india.pdf.

Sepúlveda, A., Schluep, M., Renaud, F. G., Streicher, M., Kuehr, R., Hagelüken, C., & Gerecke, A. C. (2010). A review of the environmental fate and effects of hazardous substances released from electrical and electronic equipments during recycling: Examples from China and India. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30(1), 28-41.

Shah, A. & Shaikh, T. (2008). Electronic waste: addressing the future today. Retrieved on 28 May, 2014 from: http://are.berkeley.edu/~sberto/ewaste.pdf.

UNEP (2009). Sustainable Innovation and Technology Transfer. UNEP.


Appendix 1: Piles of Electronic waste

Lecture’s Name:

Source: Jefferies, 2014

Appendix 2: E waste generation and recycling

Lecture’s Name: 1

Source: Electronics take back Coalition, 2013, p.2