Environmental issues and management strategies for waste electronic and electrical equipment


One of the great technological advancements of the 20th century has been the worldwide development of information access and communications through electronic technology. With the introduction of new technologies inevitably comes the issue of the management of discarded hardware. The growth of waste and recyclable material from the electronics and electricity age has been remarkable. The contemporary electronics and electrical waste (e-waste) management scope includes televisions, personal computers, printers, computer mice, keyboards, and cell phones.

By the mid-2000s, the tonnage of e-waste in the United States had reached approximately 2 million t. of which approximately l.S million t were incinerated or moved to landfills. The remainder was recycled. Al¬though this total represents only approximately 1% of the total solid waste stream in the United States, it nevertheless is an important component of potentially hazardous waste material entering the environment. Constituents of concern range from metals (e.g., lead and cadmium) to organic* (including polychlorinated biphenyls and brominated flame retardants). As a result of concerns about e-waste, more than 800 cities and jurisdictions provide some type of electronics recycling and reuse services in the United States.

The rising concern and interest in the state of the art of reuse, recycling, and disposal of e-wastes moti¬vated Dr. Timothy Townsend's preparation of the 41st annual Critical Review.1 In this narrative. Dr. Townsend notes that electronic equipment generally has a relatively short life before becoming outdated with the rapid evolution of technology. Thus, his re¬view covers the range of challenges posed by the logis¬tical, environmental, and societal challenges of manag¬ing discarded equipment that has reached its end of life.

The review covers the technologies for secondary use of older equipment, the approaches to recycling valuable metals and plastics from equipment before disposal, and the ultimate disposal of remaining mate¬rial through landfills and incineration. The review also discusses the hazards to human and ecosystem health associated with disposal processes.

The review is a must-read to be informed about this portion of solid waste management because e-wastes are complex in character and will continue to expand in weight and complexity with the rapid evolution of tech¬nologies taking place worldwide.

The author of the 41st annual A&WMA Critical Review is Timothy G. Townsend, Ph.D., P.E., a professor of environmental engineering in the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. His research interests in¬clude landfill design and operation, bioreador landfill technology, construction and demolition debris man¬agement, discarded electronic devices, treated wood disposal, leaching characterization of solid wastes, and special waste management. He is a licensed professional engineer in Florida.

A&WMA members and guests are invited to read, attend, and comment on the 41st annual Critical Re¬view at ASWMA's 104th Annual Conference & Exhibi¬tion to be held in Orlando. FL, the week of June 20. 2011. The presentation of the review and the discus¬sants' commentary is planned for Wednesday morning |une 22, 2011 from 8:00 to 11:30 a.m. EDT. The invited discussants include Walter Alcorn (Vice President, En¬vironmental Affairs and Industry Sustainability. Con¬sumer Electronics Association). Douglas Smith (Direc¬tor, Corporate Environment, Safety and Health, Sony Electronics, Inc.), Raoul Clarke (Florida Department of Environmental Protection), and Valerie Thomas (School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology).

The discussants will provide different perspectives of e-waste issues and management and will agree (or disagree) with the narrative and conclusions of the review author and of one another. They will identify additional issues and offer alternative commentary. Comments also will be solicited from the floor and from written submissions to the Critical Review Committee Chair. The Chair will condense and summarize these points in the October issue of the loumal of the Air & Waste Management Association. Members are encour¬aged to suggest topics and authors for future Critical Reviews and apply for membership on the Critical Re¬view Committee to participate actively in the process. Anyone interested in joining the committee should send an e-mail to dhidyl 13@comcast.net.

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