Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

E-waste trade ban won't end environmental threat

22.03.2010
Crude recycling methods used in developing countries contaminate air, water and soil

A proposal under debate in the U.S. Congress to ban the export of electronics waste would likely make a growing global environmental problem even worse, say authors of an article from the journal Environmental Science and Technology appearing online today.

The authors call into question conventional thinking that trade bans can prevent "backyard recycling" of electronics waste – primarily old and obsolete computers – in developing countries.

Primitive recycling processes used in these countries are dispersing materials and pollutants that are contaminating air, water and soil.

"Trade bans will become increasingly irrelevant in solving the problem,'' says Eric Williams, one of the authors of the article, which offers alternative ways to address the problem.

Williams is an assistant professor at Arizona State University with a joint appointment in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, a part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Sustainability.

Electronics waste – or e-waste – is often exported from the United States and other developed nations to regions in China, India, Thailand and less developed countries where recycling is done in a crude fashion.

To recover copper from e-waste, for instance, wires are pulled out, piled up and burned to remove insulation covering the copper. This emits dioxins and other pollutants.

Toxic cyanide and acids used to remove gold from circuit boards of junked computers also are released into the environment.

With the number of junked computers expected to triple in the next 15 years, the authors say, the problem will grow much worse if an effective remedy is not put in place in the near future.

The main approach to solving the backyard recycling problem has been to ban trade in e-waste. Some countries have officially banned e-waste imports, but in some cases, as in China, such legislation has pushed the trade to the black market.

Congress is debating House Resolution 2595, which would ban the export of e-waste from the United States.

"The underlying assumption of this bill and other trade bans is that most e-waste comes from outside developing nations, and that stopping trade with developed countries would cut off the supply of e-waste and stop backyard recycling," Williams says.

But authors of the Environmental Science and Technology article forecast that the developing world will generate more waste computers than the developed countries as soon as 2017, and that by 2025 the developing world will generate twice the amount of waste computers as what will come from developed nations.

"Rapid economic and population growth in developing countries is driving an increase in computer use in these parts of the world that is outpacing the implementation of modern and environment-friendly recycling systems," Williams says. " So without action, backyard recycling is certain to increase."

But he and his co-authors say even a complete global ban on trade in e-waste cannot solve the problem because it covers only a diminishing percentage of the overall supply of e-waste. They argue for direct action to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of backyard recycling.

One proposal is to pay backyard recyclers not to recycle.

"The idea is to let people first repair and reuse equipment, and only intervene to remove materials and components that would be environmentally hazardous when e-waste would be recycled using crude methods," Williams says. "Such a system looks to be an inexpensive way to maintain jobs in recycling operations and maintain access to used computers while protecting the environment."

Williams' co-authors are:

Jinglei Yu, yujingleink@gmail.com and Meiting Ju, jumeit@nankai.edu.cn, Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, Nankai University, Tianjin, China,

Yan Yang, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz. Yan.Yang.1@asu.edu

The article can be found online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es903350q

SOURCE:
Eric Williams, ericwilliams@asu.edu
Assistant Professor
School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment
(480)727-6259
MEDIA CONTACT:
Joe Kullman, joe.kullman@asu.edu
(480) 965-8122 direct line
(480) 773-1364 mobile
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona USA
http://engineering.asu.edu/

Joe Kullman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.asu.edu
http://engineering.asu.edu/

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut

nachricht Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

Im Focus: Scientists improve forecast of increasing hazard on Ecuadorian volcano

Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and the Instituto Geofisico--Escuela Politecnica Nacional (IGEPN) of Ecuador, showed an increasing volcanic danger on Cotopaxi in Ecuador using a powerful technique known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR).

The Andes region in which Cotopaxi volcano is located is known to contain some of the world's most serious volcanic hazard. A mid- to large-size eruption has...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New thruster design increases efficiency for future spaceflight

16.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Transporting spin: A graphene and boron nitride heterostructure creates large spin signals

16.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

A new method for the 3-D printing of living tissues

16.08.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>