Why E-Waste Management is Ideal for a Safer and Healthier Environment

Written by
Dr Ayub Macharia

In this day and age, the Information Technology (IT) sector is developing exponentially. There is an increase in the production as well as the use of electronic devices. In my earlier article I explained the kind of gadgets we have that are sources of e-waste. As much as we all love our TVs, refrigerators, mobile devices and other electronics it is sad to say that these electronic devices finally end up being e-waste.
Not to scare you though, these electronics (e-waste) can be recycled, resold and reused. However, failure to doing so, the e-waste indeed does pose environmental threats especially if not disposed correctly.
I know many of the readers of this article may not be environmental scientists and may wonder what E-waste management is all about. E-waste management involves managing electronic waste by recycling, remodeling or reusing any electronic gadget without haphazard disposal thus spoiling the environment. In most cases, people store these products even after they are outdated and when they decide to let go, they throw it to the environment where they are collected and dumped in dumpsites. Some gadgets do not get into dumpsites and are disposed in our soils, forests, even in rivers.
E-waste is toxic and hazardous. Fact is, electronic gadgets that are disposed as wastes contain mercury, barium, beryllium, lead, chromium, selenium and cadmium among others. Sorry to say, but these materials have the potential to pollute our soil and water. Human beings exposure to these pollutants has diverse damaging effects as listed below.
1. Arsenic – ingested as dust or soluble substances. It causes various diseases of the skin, decrease nerve conduction velocity and can also cause lung cancer
2. Barium – metallic element used in sparkplugs, fluorescent lamps and vacuum tubes. It forms poisonous oxides when in contact with air. Exposure leads to brain damage, muscle weakness, damage to internal organs such as the heart, liver and spleen.
3. Beryllium – can be inhaled as dust, fume or mist. It affects the lungs. It can also cause a skin disease characterized by poor wound healing and wart-like bumps.
4. Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) such as Polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) and Tetrabromobisphenol – A (TBBPA) are used in electronic and electrical appliances to make plastics and textiles more flame resistant. Combustion of BFRs at lower temperatures releases toxic emissions including dioxins which cause severe hormonal disorders.
5. Cadmium – ingested through respiration or taken up with food. Long term exposure leads to lung cancer, kidney damage, pulmonary emphysema and bone disease
6. CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) – these are used mainly in cooling units and insulation foam. When released into the atmosphere, they accumulate in the stratosphere and deplete the ozone layer causing increased incidence of skin cancer in humans and genetic damage in many organisms.
7. Chromium – Its compounds are irritating to eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Chronic exposure to chromium (VI) compounds can cause permanent eye injury and DNA damage.
8. Dioxins – are mainly released to the environment through combustion. Dioxins bio-accumulate in the body and can lead to malformations of the foetus, decreased reproduction and growth rates and impairment of the immune system.
9. Lead – exposure to high levels of lead can cause vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss, abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, headache, convulsions, coma or even death. Continued excessive exposure, as in an industrial setting, can affect the kidneys. In young infants, it can damage nervous system, cause blood and brain disorders.
10. Mercury – If ingested or inhaled it bioaccumulates causing brain and liver damage.
11. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – PCBs have high lipid solubility and slow metabolism rate and hence accumulate in the fat-rich tissues of almost all organisms (bioaccumulation). They cause cancer in animals, affect the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system and the endocrine system.
12. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the most widely-used plastic, used in everyday electronics and appliances, household items, pipes, upholstrery etc. PVC contains high amounts of chlorine which when burned produces hydrogen chloride gas, which combines with water to form hydrochloric acid and is dangerous when inhaled leading to respiratory problems.
13. Selenium – Is responsible for selenosis characterized by hair loss, nail brittleness, and neurological abnormalities.
Therefore, managing these wastes is our only sure way that we will conserve Kenya’s natural resources. How can we contribute in minimizing e-waste in our country whether individually or collectively? Several interventions are needed such as
1. Purchase energy efficient electronics
2. Purchase electronics that have less toxic components
3. Choose products that are returnable, reusable, or refillable over single-use items
4. Buy items made of recycled content, and use and reuse them as much as you can
5. Whenever there is awareness seminars on e-waste management feel free to attend and participate
6. Gather as much information as possible about e-waste management before buying electronics
7. When your gadget is dead, ensure that you dispose it correctly
8. Assess whether you really need an extra electronic gadget. Sometimes we buy gadgets we do not need and hence contribute to increased generation of e-waste.
9. If you have to buy a new gadget, assess your needs and determine whether your needs could be met by buying a gadget with multiple functions
10. Take care of your electronics to extend their life. For instance don’t overcharge the battery, keep the devise clean, store the devise in a case/porch.
11. Donate the electronic gadgets you do not need to social institutions such as schools, social centres, and the disadvantaged
Make it your habit to keep the environment clean and eco-friendly.
NEMA (2010) Guidelines for E-waste management in Kenya. NEMA, Nairobi
Hazardous Substances in e-Waste Downloaded at on 2nd March 2016
1. Estimate the amount of e-waste you have in your home/office/workplace.
2. What are you planning to do with that e-waste?

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