• Sukhjeet Singh

E-Waste (Electronic-Waste) Management


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health risks are increasing day by day due to direct contact with hazardous chemicals such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants, or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These are the chemicals that are prominently used in electronic products.



The market size of consumer electronics was valued at 1 Trillion USD in 2019. This shows the number of electronic devices containing hazardous chemicals in our environment degrading it and affecting our daily health and environment. The average lifespan of consumer electronic goods today ranges from 1.5 years to 13 years. Thus, E-waste is electrical or electronic products that are discarded due to reasons such as technical malfunctioning, broken goods, or donated items. According to the Global E-waste Monitor, 2020, approximately 53.6 million metric tons (Mt) of e-waste (excluding PV panels) was generated, or 7.3 kg per capita. It is estimated that the amount of e-waste generated will exceed 74 Mt in 2030. Thus, the global quantity of e-waste is increasing at an alarming rate of almost 2 Mt per year. This not only affects life on land but in seas and air also. In many of the developing countries, governments and electronic firms opt to push away their E-waste into the sea and make the environment inhabitable for life at sea. These chemicals also leach out into the air and become the cause of the many respiratory and chronic diseases in today’s world. Above the ground when electronic products are in use they do no harm but when buried under the ground, harmful chemicals leak out and mix with groundwater affecting life both above and below the ground.


The list of electronic products which majorly constitute E-waste around the globe -


Importance of Recycling E-waste


Roughly around 20% of the e-waste produced globally is recycled and the rest 80% can be found in landfills or incinerated. Thousands of tonnes of e-waste are being pulled apart by hand and the rest are burned by unskilled persons which produce harmful gasses and become a cause of health concern around the globe. Thus, recycling e-waste is a necessity to deal with the threats posed by e-waste. Here is a small table depicting the amount of E-waste recovered in different regions around the globe and what part of it is recycled.

The value of the recycled e-waste shows one factor for which recycling of e-waste is a necessity. Imagine how much money is being saved around the globe if the percentages of recycled e-wastes rise up to a deterministic level. Apart from this following are the reasons for which we should encourage recycling of e-waste:-


1. Rich Source Of Raw Materials

Electronic goods in their making, use some precious metals like gold and silver. Other metals like aluminum, silicon, lead, etc. can be recovered from the e-waste and can be put into some other purpose. This also decreases the risk of poisoning in the environment.


2. Solid Waste Management

Growth in the electronics industry reduces the life of electronic goods. Also, the everyday evolution of technology provides newer versions of electronic products. This makes users throw away their previous versions which add up to e-waste every year. Rather than disposing of those materials, recycling will not only save the cost of production but also help the living environment be more sustainable.


3. Toxic Materials

The majority of consumer electronic goods have toxic substances like lead, cadmium, and chromium which need proper processing to ensure the safety of the surrounding environment. Thus, recycling of these products becomes important to tackle the problem.


4. International Movements Of E-waste

The uncontrolled movement of e-waste across borders where availability of cheap labor and hazardous processing techniques has become one of the main concerns in many nations due to which initiative for recycling has become a necessity for many countries.


5. Data Security

Electronic products like flash drives and hard drives can carry a substantial amount of data in them. If thrown without proper taking necessary steps of securing data can impose threats of various kinds. The fact that data can be recovered in the worst conditions pose a threat to user safety which is why recycling is necessary.


The Basel Convention


The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 22 March 1989 by the Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Basel, Switzerland, in response to a public holler. Following the discovery, in the 1980s that in Africa and other parts of the developing world, deposits of toxic substances are being imported from abroad. The main objective of the Basel Convention is to ensure the safety of human health and the environment from adverse effects of hazardous materials which were coming from the industry. Its scope of application covers a wide range of substances which can be classified as “hazardous substance”.


Aims and Provisions of Basel Convention

  1. Reduction in the generation of hazardous substances and promotion of an environmentally-friendly hazardous waste management system, wherever the place of disposal.

  2. Restriction on cross-border movements of hazardous waste except where it is perceived to be in accordance with the principles of environmentally sound management.

  3. A regulatory body applying to cases where the cross-border movement of hazardous waste is permissible.

With the growing number of E-waste collected every year, various methodologies have been worked upon, on how to recycle or make efficient use of e-waste so that no degradation would be possible to the environment. Also, after the Basel convention, many countries analyzed the seriousness of this problem and took necessary steps in the form of legislative laws addressing E-waste management and inventions that also took place in the form of patents around the globe in both developed and developing countries.


Patent Analysis


1. Technological Trend

There are about 9049 patent families which refer to the patents made for E-waste management systems amongst which, 4957 are alive and 4092 are dead. The above mentioned graph shows a trend of how patent application filing changed in the past 10 years. There were only 1488 patents filed before the 2000s and the rapid increase in E-waste patent application filing after the 2000s shows the concern of both developed and developing countries towards this problem and how keen they are to solve it.


2. Top 10 Markets

The graph depicts patent families on E-waste management key regions across the globe, with China leading the race with 2901 patents followed by the US with 1266 patents. Besides these, Korea and India are almost on the same level with 774 and 700 patents respectively. Great Britain (473) and France (444) and Canada (435) accounted for the lowest number of patents in the industry across the globe.


3. Top 10 Players

The chart above demonstrates the total number of patents assigned in the E-waste management industry to different players in the market. With 65 patents, Shanghai Second Polytechnic University is leading the chart by being the top player in the industry. Followed by this, Shenwu University ranks number 2 with 61 patents. Players like Xerox, Ricoh, South China University Of Technology and Central South University are almost on the same level with less difference in the number of patents assigned to them. Nerin (40 patents) and Genetech (40 patents) lack the chart with the lowest number of E-waste management patents.


Seminal Patents


Patent No. - US10626051B2

Current Assignee - Emm LLC.

Grant Date - 2020-04-21


The patent describes a system, method, and apparatuses for recycling Electronic waste. The method comprises receiving electronic waste from an electronic waste-generating entity, separating components of the electronic waste into valuable recyclable material, hazardous material, and disposable non-hazardous material, creating a plurality of building material units comprising the disposable non-hazardous material, and sending at least a portion of the plurality of building material units back to the electronic waste-generating entity.

The proposed method of recycling electronic waste comprises collecting electronic waste material at designated sites. The material is collected and shredded into small pieces of e-stock material. The method may further comprise creating a plurality of building material units by encapsulating at least some of the small pieces of e-stock material in a non-leachable material and shaping the non-leachable material and e-stock material into a plurality of substantially uniform building material units. A part of the formed building material is provided for public end-use. The designated store at which e-waste material is collected can be retail stores and thus, a part of formed building materials can also be provided to the retail store for selling also.


Conclusion


With the advancement of technology and industry, man has invented many products which are used to make life easier but like every coin has two sides, everything has its positives and negatives. With great advantages of electrical and electronic products, when their life ends, they affect the earth in negative ways. Chronic diseases, environmental degradation, and disturbance in the life cycle are outcomes of these electronic products. So, to fight these evils many of the developed and developing countries have already discussed this problem in their legislatures. International platforms like Basel Convention provide a shining example of how to tackle the E-waste problem. Current inventions and methods in E-waste management not only help in reducing the adverse effects and encourage environmental cleansing but also boost the economy by providing job opportunities.


References

Sukhjeet is a research analyst at Copperpod IP. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering. His areas of interest are Wireless Communication, Internet of things (IoT), Embedded systems, 3D-Prototyping and Control and Automation.


Copperpod helps attorneys evaluate patent infringement and uncover hard-to-find evidence of use through prior art search, patent infringement analysis and reverse engineering.


Please contact us at info@copperpodip.com to know more about our reverse engineering capabilities.

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