The world is fueled by devices that consume society’s every whim, desire, and technological fix. For many, these devices are the quintessential reason for life and consumes a person’s daily existence. It is only proper that the corporations that design and manufacture these devices incorporate new technologies into their proceeding designs. Once the version reaches the market place, the citizenry of the world crave, stalk, hunt, and virtually acquire the device. In most cases, the new device is not that much different from its predecessor, yet while new devices are acquired the others no longer serve a purpose and are abandoned and forgotten. For some, these devices find their way into the hands of charities for distribution to the needy; others are traded in for refurbishment and resale, while others are improperly discarded as trash destined to rest in peace in landfills.
The issue of recycling e-waste (electronic waste or short-life-cycle electronic product), its environmental impact, and resolution became a concern to Lee, Chang, Fan, and Chang in their 2003 article “An overview of Recycling and Treatment of Scrap Computers” in which the authors provide statistical data, facts, and develops sound alternatives to the problem at hand. The purpose of the research was to measure the effects of these devices ending in landfills and to provide a preemptive remedy to properly remediate, dismantle, and recover components and materials to avoid contaminating landfills and endangering the planet and its populations.
Though the paper does not depict who is responsible, it becomes the responsibility of each person on the planet to do their part by making proper arraignments for their devices when they have reached the end of their usefulness. If the Earth’s population continues to consume and dispose of these gadgets at the current rate, then the world for future generations will become a cesspool of acidic puddles containing cancer-causing agents. Even though this article was written over fifteen years ago, its mantra still is clear, pristine, and ever so much more important, fix the problem now, or reap the caustic realty of tomorrow.
In 2014, The United States “generated 11.7 million tons of e-waste; …globally, 41.8 million tons of e-waste was generated with only 6.5 million tons treated by electronic take back systems (recyclers). (LeBlanc, 2018) With only 6.5 million tons recycled, 30.1 million tons did not. The abundance of e-waste is directly correlated to improvements in manufacturing technologies that allows these products to be produced quicker. In turn, resulting in “large quantities of relinquished personal computers, and other electronic devices, containing hazardous materials.”(Lee CH1, 2004). The materials that can be remediated properly are lead, batteries, capacitors, mercury-containing parts, and plastics. Once placed in landfills, they can pollute the environment if not properly disposed of in a facility capable of handling this kind of e-waste.
In developing the paper, the authors needed to support their position on what is and what will be winding up in a landfill if these technological devices are not disposed of properly. The paper did not pose any suggestion that the focus of the study contained any hands-on investigation. There were not alleged trips to landfills nor did they provide any significant testing of proclaimed hazardous wastelands. Instead, the authors provided charts that visually detailed what each device contained based on manufacturers’ specifications of each device and many assumptions. For example, the paper discussed the components of a circuit board.
The paper stated, “The typical circuit board is made of epoxy, resin, fiberglass and copper.” (Lee CH1, 2004) It is potentially factual that all circuit boards are manufactured utilizing similar materials and chemicals. Yet, it would have been extremely more convincing to discuss the acquisition of an abandoned board, dismantle it, test it for the properties being warned, and then generate a report with the findings, not to mention the environmental impact that particular device caused in the place where it was acquired. Which, it did not. Overall, the paper was based upon supporting a hypothetical analyses based on conjecture and in not all cases, supported without solid proof. In all, the paper provides speculation instead of concrete facts.
During their investigation, the crux of their work did not properly discuss the hazards caused by the materials found in the landfills. Instead, their findings of hazards was noted in their suggestions on how to remediate, properly handle, and collect the materials from abandoned devices. The paper proposed recycling methodologies and procedures on how each effort could produce and contain risks or caustic reactions done properly, adequately, and safely.
In subheading 2, “Recycling and treatment of CRTs”, it utilized deceptive methods. A CRT stands for cathode-ray tube. A CRT is a “specialized vacuum tube in which images are produced when an electron beam strikes phosphorescent surface.” (Rouse, 2005) It speculates that an analysis was completed by an electron dispersive spectrum (EDS) detection device (Noran 432C), and found both the major (> 5 wt. %) and the minor elements (< 5 wt. %) which can be identified in the panel and funnel glass of a 14 in. Philips color monitor.” (Lee CH1, 2004) The support does not come from an actual analysis for their paper, but comes from another source that suggests the testing occurred at a different time, place, and maybe a similar model and lists the source as “C.-H. Lee, C.-H. Hsi, A study on the recycling of scrap cathode ray tubes, Environ. Sci. Technol. 36 (1) (2002) 69–75.” (Lee CH1, 2004) The analysis of this CRT tube cannot be sustained as factual science; the results were acquired through scholarly research that could have been skewed or misleading; depending on what the purpose of the journal article was trying to attempt.
It is true that recycling electronic devices is a concern to maintain a safe environment. The authors site recycling methods and investigate an enterprise in Taiwan. It lauds their prowess and defines their recycling processes. Here, it becomes believable that such endeavors can be accomplished. The facts and evidence appear cogent and topical, yet such concrete information should have been forthcoming in the body of their paper. It becomes possible that this paper was produced not to make the world aware of the dangers of not recycling, but as an attempt to lure in business to China’s ability to recycle computers and prosper from the components retrieved. If this is the case, then the nation should be on the forefront of responsible recycling methods; on the contrary, they are not.
A Google search performed during the authoring of this report requested information on “does China buy old computers for recycling?” Immediately, “China’s Most Notorious E-Waste dumping Ground Now Cleaner but poorer, Thousands of polluting recyclers have shut down in Guiyu, Guangdong” dated September 22, 2017 from the South China Morning Post, contradicting the words of Lee, Chang, Fan, and Chang appeared. The article quoted a recycling representative that stated, “Every household was engaged in that business, we just did it at home, and on the street…the whole town was blanketed by foul air that smelled of acid.” (Pinghui, 2017) It appears the 2003 article “An overview of Recycling and Treatment of Scrap Computers” was written to provoke countries to provide abandoned e-waste to China to implement recycling based on well thought out recycling technologies.
In turn, the commentary is debunked. The South China Morning Post refutes Lee and his associate’s scholarly efforts. If such procedures were implemented, as discussed in the 15-year-old article, there would not be such articles written discussing the contrary. It is not to say that there needs to be more recycling efforts, but these efforts need to be conducted by competent companies that have the needs of the world and its populations in mind and not just for a quick sound bite that sounds great on paper but never materializes.
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