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Only 16% of electronic waste is well managed, the rest is wrongly disposed of. The mishandling of electronic waste can release dangerous chemicals that lead to pollution of the environment and can affect human health. At least 3% of the components of badly recycled electronic waste affect people's health.
According to the 2014 report on the global monitoring of electronic waste carried out by the Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability of the United Nations University, the world generation of waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment in that year was approximately 41 million tons and it is expected to grow to 49 million tons by 2018. Of this amount, only 6.5 million tons (16% of the total generated) were reported as formally managed by systems for the collection and handling of this waste.
But how do these residues affect human health and the environment? Édgar Erazo, Executive Director of EcoCómputo, comments that the composition of waste electrical and electronic equipment is very diverse, reaching up to more than 200 different compounds, of which there are several potentially dangerous items for human health. Generally, in the equipment we find iron and steel representing 50% of the waste, followed by plastics, which is 21%, in addition to glass, printed circuit boards, ceramics, rubber and other materials.
Among the dangerous elements is The Lead which is a toxic substance that accumulates in the body, affecting the brain, liver, kidneys, bones and teeth. We also find the Mercury which, even in small amounts, is harmful to the nervous and immune systems, the digestive system, the skin and the lungs, kidneys and eyes. Y arsenic which can cause chronic poisoning in addition to the appearance of skin lesions and skin cancer.
In the environment these substances also cause havoc, plants absorb arsenic very easily, which being close to crops causes food contamination. Lead is a particularly dangerous chemical element, and it can accumulate in individual organisms, but it also enters food chains when it is absorbed through the soil.
By themselves, these wastes would not affect people or the ecosystem, but handling them incorrectly increases the risk of exposure to dangerous substances, which are found in electrical and electronic equipment.
We have seen in some cases, that electronic waste is burned in open environments to isolate metals such as copper from cables, and the heating of printed circuit boards to desolder and extract chips (integrated circuits) and electronic components. And it is, in these actions, that dangerous chemicals are released into the environment that lead to pollution.
Likewise, Édgar Erazo clarifies that the effects that the final disposal of non-usable materials from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) can have on health contribute to the appearance of negative environmental effects in common sanitary landfills due to the variety of substances contained, causing loss of valuable secondary resources, be it air, groundwater and soil, among others.
Maria Camila Porras