The Metal Content Of Waste PCBs Causing A New Environmental Challenge

Electronic waste, commonly referred to a e-waste, is growing at an alarming rate.

The problem is partly due to a decreased lifespan of many electronic devices. In the world of smartphones, laptops, and digital cameras, the ‘next big thing’ arrives quicker than ever and many consumers end up throwing their old devices away quicker than ever without a second thought.

Manufacturers have a part to play as well. Studies have shown that many manufacturers aren’t correctly recycling anywhere near as much of their waste as they should be.

Less than a third of around 60 metals have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50%, 34 of these have a recycling rate below 1%, according to recent research by the International Resource Panel (IRP).

Instead, these metals are often disposed of using methods which are harmful to the environment.

E-waste sent to Africa

This problem is intensified by the amount of e-waste that is illegally being sent to third-world countries in Africa. The exportation of e-waste s illegal, yet their remains an extensive network of criminal gangs smuggling waste and dumping it into Africa, as well as the likes of Pakistan, India and Brazil.

It’s a profitable business as you can get away with it. The precious metals that can be extracted from waste PCBs can be worth a fair amount of money, at least to those working in third-world countries.

The problem is that these metals are being extracted using methods like open burning, which are highly toxic or the environment, as well as the workers themselves.

Without the safety equipment to protect themselves, these third-world workers (often young children) are burning the insulating wire from copper wires (for examples) creating a toxic black smoke.

As well as damaging the environment, many of these children end up with lead poisoning, as well as being exposed to fumes from Mercury, Chromium, and Cadmium.

What can the Western world do?

A recent study into the growth of this problem in Ghana suggested that 85% of the e-waste burned originated in that country, so the Western world is far from fully to blame. It is down to the United Nations to crack down on the criminal exportation of e-waste.

Nevertheless, individuals and business can do their bit to help prevent this problem by ensuring that they are recycling printed circuit boards or any other type of electronic equipment using safe methods.

Correct PCB recycling methods may take a bit more effort on a business owner’s part, but it’s helping to create a safer planet in the future.


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