E-Waste! You must have heard the word e-waste or electronics waste many time. Tons of electronic waste/e-waste generated worldwide. Electronics waste is generated in the industry but also at the house too. This blog post helps to understand what electronic waste is and how to handle electronic waste and e-waste recycling.

What is e-waste? (ewaste definition)

E-waste is waste comprised of rejected or discarded electronics waste by consumers or by a manufacturer. E-waste is generated from used or discarded electronic devices, gadgets, domestic appliances, industrial instruments, and electronic device manufacturing processes. E-waste is harmful/hazardous to the environment, animals, human-being, risk of water contamination, soil contamination, and air pollution.

E-waste is an electronics or electrical product as a whole or electronics parts and components which are intended or classified to be discarded or disposed of in the manufacturing process, repair process, refurbishment process, and in the event of product orphanage and obsolete.

E-waste or electronic waste must be collected, handled, stored, recycled, and disposed of in a controlled manner.

  • Scrapped printed board circuits (PCBA)
  • Electronic parts which are discarded as salvage during refurbishment and repair of electronic devices
  • Rejected electronics parts (IC, registers, capacitor), 
  • Solder wire, solder dross from PCBA manufacturing companies,
  • Scrapped printed circuit boards from PCB suppliers
  • Batteries that are no longer capable to hold a charge, 
  • Damaged & obsolete gazettes like cell phones, tablets, laptops, monitors, CPUs, printers, and compact discs.
  • Hazardous substances which are used as parts/components of electronic devices
  • IT and networking equipment such as data centers, servers, and mainframes.
  • LCD, LED, and fluorescent lamps
  • Air conditioner, refrigerator
  • Washing machine

Sources of E-waste

The following list of sources are the main contributors (generators) to e-waste,

SourceRoleE-Waste Type
Producer / Manufacturer:Manufacturer of PCBA, PCB, electrical, and electronics componentsRejected PCBA, lead, solder dross, solvents, solder paste, and connector cut pieces.
Repair & Refurbishment Centers: Repair and refurbishment of electronics and electric appliances.Rejected electronics components, and solder waste.
Importer: Importing of electronics and electrical appliances and their distribution to end consumers. An importer may not be necessarily contributing to e-waste directly, however, product obsolescence (Product end of life) or product damage during transit or unsold products may be discarded as e-waste.
Consumer: Consumers contribute to e-waste generation significantly. Most consumers replace old and outdated electronic appliances and equipment with a new one. Old or outdated electronic appliances either go for refurbishment or they will be sold to a second buyer. However, in most cases outdated or expired electronics products (eg. batteries) straightway go into e-waste.

Stages of e-waste

E-waste generation starts at the source and ends with disposal or recycling. The following stages are associated with the typical e-waste management system.

a. E-waste generation at source
b. Collection
c. Handling
d. Storage (On-site or off-site)
e. Dismantling & Segregation
f. Recycling
g. Treatment
h. Disposal

Risk of e-waste to the environment & health

E-waste is hazardous to health & environment if it’s not handled, collected, segregated, and disposed of properly. Following hazardous and toxic substances in e-waste can cause health and environmental risks,

  • Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB)
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)
  • Hexavalent chromium
  • Cadmium (Cd)
  • Lead (Pb)
  • Mercury (Hg)
  • Radioactive substances
  • Phosphors
  • Beryllium, Antimony
  • Lithium, Cadmium
  • Glycol
  • Precious Metals – Indium, platinum, gold, silver & palladium

Composition of E-Waste:

The following table helps you to understand the different compositions of e-waste, its source, and risks associated with health and the environment.

Electronic ComponentComposition / Content of E-wasteRisk to Environment & Health
BatteryCadmium: Cadmium is used in Ni-Cd (Nickel-Cadmium) batteries as part of the electrode. Cadmium is toxic and may cause cancer
BatterySulfur: Sulfur is widely used in lead-acid batteries.If not handled properly, it’s dangerous to human beings and may cause kidney, liver, and heart damage.
Heat SinkBeryllium oxide: Beryllium oxide is used in manufacturing heat sink components. Toxic in nature and may cause cancer if inhaled.
Heat ExchangerChromium VI: Chromium VI plating is widely used in plating sheet metal and tubing components in air-conditioning and refrigerators to avoid rust also known as a hexavalent coating.Very toxic if inhaled and may cause genetic damage. Harmful to the aquatic environment.
(Printed Circuit Board Assembly)
Lead: Lead is widely used to solder electronics components on PCBA boards. In modern PCBA design, non-RoHS elements are used to meet RoHS regulations.Risk of soil contamination
LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)Multiple substances are used to form a liquid crystal display. Contains hazardous ingredients. Harmful to the aquatic environment.
PCBA, Thermostat:Mercury: Used in thermostat and PCBA components.
Harmful to human beings and aquatic organisms. Risk to kidney and central nervous system
X-ray fluorescent screens, Cathode-ray tubesCadmium sulfide: Used in semiconductors and also used in x-ray fluorescent screens and cathode ray tubes.Harmful if swollen or inhaled
Elector terminal, switch, and connectorsCopper beryllium alloys are used in various types of electrical connectors, and switches. Toxic by inhalation.

Adverse Effects of E-Waste

  • Hazardous and toxic content in e-waste can cause health and environmental issues. 
  • If E-waste is not handled properly it leads to soil contamination, air pollution, and impact on the animal, and groundwater sources.

Regulation to control e-waste:

Various countries deployed stringent rules and regulations for e-waste disposal. These regulations are binding to manufacturers, distributors, repair or service centers, dismantlers, recyclers, and refurbisher. 

Most of the e-waste control and management regulations cover the following key elements,

  • Definition
  • Composition and Components of e-waste & RoHS
  • Roles and responsibilities of the manufacturer, producers, dismantler, recycler, and refurbishing center
  • Assessment of e-waste and its hazardous level
  • Recovery, recycling, and reuse process and rules
  • E-waste disposal and treatment

Key Take Ways / Conclusion:

  • E-waste is harmful to health and the environment, hence E-waste must be collected, stored, handled, recycled, and disposed of carefully!
  • Never disposed of electronics waste in general waste or household trash! It must be stored properly and handed over to an authorized e-waste recycler.
  • Deploy a risk-assessment process and e-waste handling process and policy in your organization.
  • Adhere to local and global regulations!

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