Pollution in the IT industry and e-waste management, an article by Jose Australiano Rodrigues
Pollution from the IT industry and inappropriate management of e-waste have numerous impacts on the environmental, social, economic, technological and political levels.
Global warming and atmospheric changes are currently restructuring many economic sectors, especially those that greatly affect the environment, such as the electronics industry (Di VAIO et al., 2019). All electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and components that have been rejected or not used are considered waste electronic and electrical.
E-waste management (EWM) is a major problem in many emerging countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), mainly due to the increasing rate of e-waste generation. The high growth rate of e-waste generation has generally occurred due to rapid progress in electrical and electronic industries, population growth, urbanization and consumption patterns (ABOOELMAGED, 2020).
This type of waste comes from various sources, such as government, businesses, and households. Information technology industries contribute the largest share in the e-waste stream, and consumer electronics also contribute significantly. Most public and private companies rely heavily on electrical and electronic equipment (ISLAM et al., 2020).
The United Nations (UN) reported that e-waste generation had increased to more than 44 million metric tons (or tons) per year by the end of 2020. Bocken and Short (2021) and Onac et al. (2020) found that the amounts of e-waste are increasing more rapidly than any other form of municipal waste and will increase to 74.7 megatons by 2030. The estimated global volume of accumulated e-waste could reach 78 million metric tons by 2050 (Asifi, Shahparvari, Chhetri , 2019).
In this sense, the topic of e-waste attracts scientists, public policy makers and professionals, because it is a hazardous waste that greatly threatens human health and the environment. E-waste (e-waste) contains more than 1,000 substances, many of which are toxic (DHIR et al., 2021).
The released toxicants can alter the microbial structure and function and cause high toxicity to aquatic organisms and soil inhabitants (LIU et al., 2019). The production of electrical and electronic equipment requires many raw materials, including metals, plastics, rubber, glass, semiconductors, oil, gas, and wood. Many materials can be recycled and reused (MINOJA; ROMANO, 2021).
The increasing academic interest in the subject also demonstrates its importance and relevance. Despite its problems, the growth of e-waste also provides significant potential economic value due to valuable minerals. The presence of precious metals such as gold (Au), silver (Ag), palladium (Pd), platinum (Pt) and other rare elements (REE) makes e-waste recycling economically attractive (ISLAM et al., 2020). Therefore, the implementation of sustainable EWM practices in the UAE remains a major challenge for the e-waste industry. Stakeholder participation is essential for an environmentally sustainable EWM approach.
However, each country must independently agree on its level of cooperation, and the reluctance of the population or local authorities to cooperate is a critical problem (AHMAD et al., 2019). This effort assesses and integrates the opinions and perceptions of all internal stakeholders, including manufacturers, distributors, retailers, service centers and government (VERONICA et al., 2020). Wang et al. (2020), that the parties may have conflicting views. Therefore, there is a need to raise stakeholder awareness of e-waste management needs.
There are many options for e-waste treatment and disposal, in addition to EWM (Electronic Waste Management). E-waste treatment mainly includes export, landfill and recycling. Meanwhile, electronic waste is mainly disposed of via landfill. Each of the options listed for EWM has different environmental, economic, social and technical aspects. To choose the most appropriate alternative to EWM, the different aspects of each alternative and the advantages associated with it should be evaluated in terms of social, environmental, economic and technical issues.
It should be noted that the most appropriate alternative to EWM should be an option that is economically viable, environmentally feasible, socially acceptable and technically viable (MALEK; DESAI, 2019). As EWM options grow in complexity and number, there is a need for an effective strategy for evaluating these options. Emerging countries have limited research capacity on EWM (ALBLOOSHI et al., 2022).
The debate about sustainability has a long history. Initial contributions to this field were made by studies interested in the relationship between man and nature (CAPUTO et al., 2021).
In this way, sustainability meets current needs and recognizes the needs of future generations. Therefore, sustainability is defined as “the adoption of business strategies and activities that meet the needs of institutions and stakeholders, while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources needed in the future” (ALBLOOSHI et al., 2022). Although the management of e-waste is considered a challenge for many countries globally.
Thus, in the UAE, the volume of e-waste generated is increasing due to unsustainable management practices fueled by the growing confusion among various stakeholders (KLEMEŠ et al., 2020). So the e-waste situation is getting worse.
The most effective solution to the growing problem of e-waste is to recycle raw materials from used electronics. E-waste recycling will benefit society and reduce the volume of solid waste placed in dedicated landfills. Computer resale and reuse remain high, depending on the hardware. There is no reliable number that quantifies the amount of e-waste as computers become more accessible as technology becomes more accessible. In addition to consumers, the vast software industry is a source of older computers (PATWA et al., 2021). Modern technology increases computing speed, and efficiency necessarily increases the obsolescence rate (OUDA et al., 2021).
However, e-waste is a problem, particularly in emerging countries where efficient EWM (electronic waste management) systems are not fully adopted, and thus a significant transboundary movement of e-waste has been reported (EL BILALI; Benhassan, 2020).
Sustainable development has gone through many transformations since the United Nations adopted the first principles at a conference in Stockholm in the document entitled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (MAWED, 2020). The United Arab Emirates also launched the sustainable economic development initiative as a priority in the “Green Economic Agenda (2015-2030)” in the transition to sustainable development.
E-waste should be handled in a sustainable manner to reduce unnecessary disposal of e-waste in the available landfill. For example, a facility set up to serve as a major e-waste management center in the Middle East will initially handle 39 kilotons (kilotons) of e-waste each year.
Meanwhile, the UAE is developing policies and systems for managing e-waste. However, more efforts are needed to ensure that these regulations are implemented (ZABALA, 2019). The business community and local authorities, such as Dubai Internet City and Dubai Science Park, have been the catalysts for other initiatives in the UAE, including an e-waste collection campaign in 2017. The campaign collected nearly two tons of discarded electronic devices. For example, laptops, printers, cameras and cell phones (ALBLOOSHI et al., 2022).
Therefore, e-waste management systems are a problem in contemporary society that needs an immediate solution. As such, the challenges faced by e-waste management systems in emerging countries such as the UAE are multidimensional.
Thus, pollution of the IT industry and inappropriate management of e-waste have numerous implications at the environmental, social, economic, technological and political levels.
Jose Australiano Rodriguez. Specialist and Clinician in Marketing Sustainability from UFRJ, with a focus on Marketing and Sustainability, with an interest in research in organizational sustainability, marketing sustainability, and sustainable consumer behavior.
In EcoDebate, ISSN 2446-9394, 04/25/2022
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