The Impact of Managing Electronic Waste to Ensure Green Computing
In this era of information and communication technology, the use of electronics and computational resources has grown exponentially. Excessive use of electronics equipments has given rise to a number of adversaries such as high energy 418 Ranjita Panda consumption, global warming, accumulation of e-wastes, environmental pollution etc. Faced with the sever realities of global warming and rising energy costs, government agencies and private firms worldwide have started examining ways to protect the environment. To address these issues, there is a growing global movement to implement more environmental friendly computing.
Green computing can be defined as the efficient use of computing resources. It is the name attached to the movement which represents an environmentally responsible way of computing through reduced power consumption. It is also associated with the proper use of computing resources and plays a prime role in minimizing their hazardous impact on environment. Two major issues associated with green computing are: reduction in energy consumption and pollution control. While the former can be achieved by proper use of electronic good and through development of energy efficient and less power consuming hardware, the later can be achieved through their reduced use, proper recycling policies and use of less toxic substances in manufacturing the equipments. Maximizing economic viability and ensuring sustainability are among the other aspects of green computing. Out of these above stated aspects of green computing, in this paper, we are focusing on issues related to waste management and recycling.
Waste Management Any substance that is discarded is known as waste. It is a valuable raw material located at a wrong place. Many of the wastes, at present used in uneconomic manner or left completely un-utilized, are causing great hazards to human environment. It can be converted into useful product by making use of appropriate processing technology. These wastes are of various types and can be categorized as hazardous and nonhazardous. These can be further subdivided into municipal wastes, electronic wastes, bio-medical wastes and Industrial wastes. Many studies have been carried out in various parts of the world to establish a connection between health and hazardous wastes. Certain chemicals if released untreated, e.g. cyanides, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls are highly toxic and exposure to these can lead to disease or death. Some studies have detected excess prevalence of cancer in residents exposed to hazardous waste.
E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. In developed countries it, on an average, equals 1% of the total solid waste. The increasing “market penetration” in developing countries, “replacement market” in developed countries and “high obsolescence rate”, make e-waste one of the fastest waste streams. It includes items such as televisions (TV), computers, Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), plasma E-waste Management: A Step towards Green Computing 419 panels, printing-scanning devices, mobile phones as well as a wide range of household, medical and industrial equipments which are simply discarded as new technologies become available. Huge quantities of these wastes are discarded every year and since these wastes contain toxic and carcinogenic compounds can pose high risk to the environment.
In computer lead and cadmium are used in circuit boards, lead oxide and cadmium in cathode ray tube monitors, mercury in switches and flat screen monitors, cadmium in computer, polychlorinated biphenyls in older capacitors, transformers and batteries. At present, Indians use about 14 million PCs, 16 million mobile phones and 80 million televisions. So, there is a pressing need to address e-waste management particularly in developing countries like ours. The presence of valuable recyclable components, in electronic wastes, attracts informal and unorganized sectors towards it but the unsafe and environmentally risky practices adopted by them pose great risks to health and environment.
Problems E-waste is a problem both at the manufactures end and at the user’s levels. As improved models based on new technology hit the market, more e-waste is generated. Manufacturers also fail to take responsibility for their product once the product is sold, and disposal becomes the headache of the consumers. At present management of these electronics waste is at a very poor state. While most of it is recycled; the rest ends up in landfills. According to a report about 70% of the heavy metal found in landfills comes from electronic discards which contaminate the ground water. These wastes, if are burned instead of being buried or dumped lead to unhealthy emissions and air pollution. Though, computer design has progressed appallingly well and surprisingly fast in terms of performance but looking at it from a green perspective, the work is yet at its epoch. Conventionally, computer manufacturing includes the use of lead, cadmium, mercury, and other toxins in general. According to green experts, a computer alone contains 4 to 8 pounds of lead and along with other electronic devices it contributes two-fifths of all lead in landfills. Not only from the hazardous waste generation point of view but also from power consumption and heat generation perspective, computers offer a great threat to the society. According to Mark Bramfitt, principal program manager at PG&E, “Data centre servers use 50 times the energy per square foot as an office does”. Data centers are the main reason behind energy consumption, many companies spend more on energy than on hardware such as servers. It is predicted that energy costs, now about 10% of the average IT budget, could rise to 50% in recent year. Faster processors use more power, and their waste heat increases temperature and also causes reliability problems such as disk crash, device failure etc leading to more waste generation.
To handle these issues air conditioners are used which further consume a large amount of electricity and release a lot of heat to the outer environment making the whole process a vicious cycle of waste heat generation and high power consumption. Moreover, the biggest environmental threat caused by an air conditioner is the release of cloro-fluorocarbon (CFC) which can destroy the ozone layer. To 420 Ranjita Panda counter all these growing pollution threats all over the world due to the growing use of electronic device in general and computers in particular there is a need to look for an eco-friendly computer.
Health Risks Recycling of waste carries health risks if proper precautions are not taken. Workers working with waste containing chemical and metals may experience exposure to toxic substances and have sever health issues at the range of physical disorders, disabilities etc. Toxic exposure even sometimes may become fatal. Therefore, disposal of healthcare wastes and toxic metal wastes require special attention in order to avoid major health hazards. 3.4 Recycling To handle the above mentioned issues related to excessive use of electronics equipments and their effect on the environment, environmental scientists emphasize on 3R (reduce, recycle and reuse) process as an alternative to the present e-waste management practice. For a developing society like ours, reduced use of electronics equipments being not a feasible option, we, therefore, have to emphasize on reuse and recycling processes. Besides this, different companies nowadays are looking for other eco-friendly alternatives for industrialization and sustainable development. We feel that, an integrated approach with scientific techniques can minimize the e-waste generation at the base level. Segregation of toxic substances at the root level with systematic planning can eliminate the pollution load and develop a green society. Used or unwanted electronic equipment should be discarded in a convenient and environmentally responsible manner. Computers have toxin metals and pollutants that can emit harmful emissions into the environment. Computers should never be discarded in a landfill. Computers should be recycled through manufacturer programs such as HP’s Planet Partners recycling service or recycling facilities in the community. Still-working computers may be donated to non-profit agencies. The recycling methods adopted in India include open burning of circuit boards or using acid stripes which are potentially harmful. The IP chips are reused. The parts that cannot be used are sent for open dumping to extract metals like copper. PVC-coated cables are openly burnt. Nitric acid is also used to remove Gold and Platinum. Both open burning and acid baths lead to occupational exposure to pollutants and endanger the health of nearby communities. This has been linked with various health problems like Silicosis, Respiratory irritation and pulmonary oedema.