Is electronic waste biodegradable? (5 reasons why electronic waste should be carefully discarded).

This article shall answer the question, “is electronic waste biodegradable?”.

In addition, several other topics shall be covered, which include:

  • Definition of electronic waste.
  • Types of electronic wastes.
  • Types of toxic substances in electronic waste.
  • What does the research say about electronic waste?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • What are the stages and agents of biodegradation?

Is electronic waste biodegradable?

No, electronic waste is non-biodegradable. This is because it is made up of materials that are not easily broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.

What is biodegradation?

According to Wifak Bahafid, Indeed, biodegradation is the process by which organic substances are broken down into smaller compounds by living microbial organisms.

What are the agents of biodegradation?

The agents of biodegradation include the following:

  • Water.
  • Wind.
  • Temperature.
  • Bacteria.
  • Fungi.

Water.

When water carries the organic substance, it causes the mechanical breakdown of that substance into small particles.

Wind.

Much like water, wind causes the mechanical breakdown of organic substances by carrying them from one place to another.

Temperature.

Temperature brings about the mechanical breakdown of organic substances by causing their expansion and contraction.

This expansion and contraction causes stress which eventually leads to breaking down 

Bacteria.

Many bacterial species break down organic matter through aerobic or anaerobic respiration to form small particles.

Most common and active bacterial species include bacilli, mycobacterium, and pseudomonas.

Fungi.

Fungi, just like bacteria, break down organic matter as a source of carbon. 

The most common fungi include mushrooms, mildew, yeast, and mold.

What are the stages of biodegradation? 

Biodegradation occurs in three distinct stages that include:

  • Biodeterioration.
  • Bio-fragmentation
  • Assimilation.

Biodeterioration.

Biodeterioration is the mechanical breakdown of organic matter from large substances to small and simple particles.

It is the first stage of biodegradation.

It occurs as a result of the actions of wind, temperature, and water.

Bio-fragmentation.

This is the second stage of biodegradation.

It involves the bacteria and fungi breaking down the organic matter into very fine particles which are used up by the microorganisms.

Assimilation.

This is the last stage of biodegradation.

It is the stage where the bacteria and fungi take up the bio-fragmented particles into their biological systems.

What is the importance of biodegradation?

Biodegradation is very essential to the ecosystem because of the following:

  • It breaks down large organic compounds into small particles which are used up by the microorganisms, therefore, reducing toxic substances in the environment.
  • It leads to the addition of minerals in the soils, therefore, making the soils more fertile.
  • It leads to the reduction of solid matter from the environment, which would otherwise accumulate in water bodies, killing aquatic life.
  • It leads to ecosystem balance whereby the dead organic matter is broken down and the carbon acquired is used up by bacteria and fungi, resulting in carbon recycling.

What is electronic waste?

Electronic waste, or E-waste, is the discarded parts of electronics, or the whole electronic gadget.

What are the types of electronic waste?

There is a wide variety of electronic waste which include:

  • Electronic batteries; produce lead and sulfur.
  • Electronic chips; produce heavy metals such as gold, bromide, tin, and lead. 

They also contain brominated flame retardants.

  • Motherboards; produce lead, tin, and gold.
  • Television sets.
  • Speakers; emit polyvinyl chlorides and sulfur oxides when burnt.
  • Printed circuit board; emits tin, lead, mercury, cadmium, and beryllium.
  • Computer monitors; emit lead.
  • Cameras.
  • Plastics; emit sulfur gases, emit brominated dioxins, and emit long-chain hydrocarbons, and heavy metals.
  • Computer cables; contain wires that emit polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which pollute soil, air, and water.
  • Sockets.

Is electronic waste toxic?

Yes, electronic waste is very toxic.

Electronic waste produced toxic substances which include heavy metals and long-chain hydrocarbons.

The toxic substances include:

  • Lead.
  • Barium.
  • Cadmium.
  • Cobalt.
  • Tin.
  • Mercury.
  • Gold.
  • Brominated dioxins.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Oil.
  • Carbon black.
  • Brominated flame retardants.

What are the effects of toxic substances produced by electronic waste?

The effects of the electronic waste substances include:

Lead.

Lead is a heavy metal produced by monitor and lead-acid batteries.

Its effects include:

  • Low IQ
  • Attention deficits.
  • Impaired cognitive function.

Mercury.

Mercury is a heavy metal produced by fluorescent tubes and flat-screen monitors.

Its toxic effects include:

  • Dermatitis- skin disease.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Memory loss.
  • Sensory impairment.
  • Slow growth and development.
  • Reduced fertility.

Cadmium.

Cadmium is produced by nickel-cadmium batteries.

Its toxic effects include:

  • Kidney damage.
  • Lung damage.

Sulfur.

Sulfur is a metal that is produced by lead-acid batteries.

Its toxic effects include:

  • It causes acid rain which corrodes roofs and plant tissues.
  • Acid rain causes eye and skin irritation.
  • Kidney damage.

Brominated Flame Retardants( BFRs).

They are used as flame retardants in plastics to make them less flammable.

Their effects include:

  • Liver problems.
  • Impaired nervous system development.
  • Thyroid problems.

Polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs).

These are long-chained hydrocarbons that are chlorinated. 

They are found in cables as insulators.

Their effects include:

  • Pollution of water, soil, and air when burnt.
  • They cause reproductive health problems.

Americium.

Used in smoke alarms.

It is a highly carcinogenic metal.

Is electronic waste recyclable?

Yes, electronic waste can be recycled.

Electronic gadgets can be refurbished instead of discarding them.

The various parts can be used in industries to make new gadgets.

What does research on electronic waste say?

Various researches have been conducted over time to address the effects of electronic waste.

Research conducted in 2018 showed that electronic waste accumulated and spread over wide areas affecting soil and water bodies 

The concentration of heavy metals was high and this was associated with the neighboring electronic waste dumping site.

In May 2020, a research project was conducted in Hangzhou, China. 

The research was aimed at finding the occurrence and distribution of traditional contaminants in soil and water from electronic waste.

The concentration of dioxins and heavy metals was found to be very high, affecting the area’s soil and water.

What are the reasons for high electronic waste?

Electronic waste has been on the rise lately.

This is due to several factors which include:

  • Availability of cheap electronic gadgets.
  • Technological changes, rendering electronic gadgets obsolete.
  • Manufacturing of substandard electronic equipment by industries.
  • Denial of repairing licenses by governments to its citizens.

What are the remedies for increasing electronic waste?

The remedies for increasing electronic waste include the following;

  • People should be encouraged to repair their electronic gadgets instead of discarding them.
  • Governments should illegalize the manufacturing of substandard electrical gadgets.
  • The governments should control the importation of substandard electronic gadgets.
  • The governments should train and license more personnel to repair electronic gadgets.
  • The governments should ban the dumping of electronic wastes in water bodies.

Is electronic waste eco-friendly?

No. According to a study, electronic waste is not eco-friendly.

This is because it emits chemicals that are not biodegradable hence causing soil, air, and water pollution.

The solid waste accumulates over some time on land and in water bodies causing pollution.

What is the future of electronic waste?

There are attempts across the world to come up with electronic parts made from biodegradable materials.

Germany-based Institute, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology has a young research group working to come up with biodegradable electronic components.

They are yet to come up with a complete device but they have already created OLEDs and other biodegradable components.

They have come up with semiconductors and dyes made from plant extracts, and insulators made from gelatin.

These components are made from plant products and hence are biodegradable.

With the development of technology and the increasing menace of non-biodegradable electronic waste, more research will be conducted in the future to come up with biodegradable components.

Conclusion:

The blog has answered the question, ” is electronic waste biodegradable?”.

Other topics which have been addressed include: 

  • Definition of biodegradation.
  • Effects of toxic electronic wastes.
  • Reasons for increased electronic waste.
  • Remedies for increasing electronic waste.
  • What research has said about electronic waste?
  • The future of electronic waste.

Frequently Asked Questions( FAQs): Is electronic waste biodegradable?

Is electronic waste biodegradable?

No, electronics waste is not biodegradable.

This is because electronic parts are made from materials that can not be broken down by microorganisms.

Do electronics decompose?

No, the electronic parts were meant to last for the longest possible time.

The only way the electronic waste can be exhausted is by burning, although burning produces toxic fumes which affect the animals and plants.

What is the longest thing to decompose?

The longest thing to compose is plastic.

Plastic is made from very long-chained polymers of hydrocarbons.

The polymers do not undergo decomposition since there are no bacterial species or fungi that can act on them.

Leave your comment or question in the comment section below.

Citations.

Sthiannopkao, Suthipong; Wong, Ming Hung (2013). “Handling e-waste in developed and developing countries: Initiatives, practices, and consequences”. Science of the Total Environment. 463–464: 1147–1153. 

doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2012.06.088

Zezha, T.J, Wifak Bahafid, Hanane Sayel, and Naima, E.G. ( July 4, 2012). Biodegradation: Involved Microorganisms and Genetically Engineered Microorganisms. 230-234.

doi:10.5772/56194.

Michael J. Dagani, Henry J. Barda, Theodore J. Benya, David C. Sanders: Bromine Compounds, Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry 2002, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. 404-405.

doi:10.1002/14356007.

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