TRADE, AND TREATMENT OF E-WASTE
Scenario 1: Official take-back (collection) system
Scenario 2: Disposal of e-waste in mixed residual waste
Scenario 3: Collection of e-waste outside of the official take-back system
Scenario 4: Informal collection and recycling in developing countries
Official take-back (collection) system
In this scenario, usually under the requirement of national e-waste legislation, e-waste is collected by designated organizations, producers, and/or the government. This happens via retailers, municipal collection points, manufacturers, and/or pick-up services.
The final destination for the e-waste is state-of-the-art treatment facilities, which recover the valuable materials in an environmentally sound manner and reduce the negative impacts.
Disposal of e-waste in mixed residual waste
In this scenario, consumers put their e-waste in their household dustbins alongside other types of domestic waste. The disposed of e-waste is then treated with regular mixed waste. Depending on the region, it can either be sent to landfills or municipal solid waste incineration.
Landfilling and solid waste incineration are not appropriate methods to treat e-waste, because both lead to resource loss and have the potential to negatively impact the environment.
The e-waste in a landfill can lead to toxic chemicals escaping into the soil and water. Incinerating e-waste releases dioxins, furans, and other highly hazardous substances such as mercury, other heavy metals, and persistent organic pollutants.
Collection of e-waste outside of the official take-back system
In this scenario, e-waste is collected by individual waste dealers or companies and then traded through various channels. Because this is a market-driven business, these types of e-waste will tend to be the items where most profit can be made.
E-waste is traded freely at the national level, and usually, its quantity is not systematically documented or reported to authorities, due to a lack of a specific reporting framework or requirements. In this scenario, e-waste is often not treated in state-of-the-art facilities, and some e-waste is shipped illegally, to other countries (often developing countries/countries in transition).
In some countries where no legal obligations apply, such as some US states, producers can offer their own take-back systems.
Informal collection and recycling in developing countries
In most developing countries, there are many self-employed people engaged in the collection and recycling of e-waste. They usually work on a door-to-door basis to buy e-waste from consumers at home, and then they sell it to refurbishers and recyclers. These types of informal collection activities provide a basic livelihood for many unskilled workers.
Apart from domestic collection, the demand for inexpensive second-hand goods and secondary materials is an incentive to import e-waste from developed countries.
Due to a lack of regulation and the lack of formal recycling facilities, electronic products that do not have any reuse value are mostly recycled in a crude manner by unregulated ‘backyard recycling’, which can cause severe damage to the environment and human health.
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