E-waste in the Republic of Moldova: time bomb for environment and health

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Day by day, electrical and electronic products fill the market of the Republic of Moldova, and to meet the high demands of consumers, the equipment advances in size and parameters, becoming real time bombs for the environment and health. But first of all, what is e-waste?

Electronic waste or e-waste is discarded electrical or electronic devices. Used electronics intended for renovation, reuse, resale, recovery, recycling (by material recovery) or disposal are also considered electronic waste. According to the 2018 data of the Inspectorate for Environmental Protection, the import of electrical and electronic equipment in the Republic of Moldova was 4.5 kg/inhabitant. The e-waste category includes:

• Lighting equipment;

• Electrical and electronic tools;

• Large and small household appliances;

• IT and telecommunications equipment;

• Consumer equipment;

• Toys, sports and leisure equipment;

• Medical devices, except for implanted and infected products (radiotherapy equipment, cardiology, dialyzers, pulmonary ventilators, nuclear medicine equipment, laboratory equipment for in vitro diagnostics, etc.);

• Supervision and control tools;

• Vending machines.

As can be seen, the list of e-waste is voluminous and its use is becoming more widespread. In this context, experts warn: e-waste is a real time bomb for health and the environment, because it contains extremely toxic substances such as halogens, mercury, lead, etc. The negative effects of these toxins on human health include damage to the brain, heart, liver, kidneys and bone system. E-waste can also significantly affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body, leading to congenital diseases and malformations.

Speaking of the negative effects of e-waste on the environment, it is good to know that the process of air pollution occurs when e-waste is informally disposed of by dismantling, crushing or melting materials, releasing dust particles or toxins into the environment, such as dioxins, which cause air pollution and affect the health of the respiratory tract. Also, low-value electronic waste is often burned, but burning also serves as a way to get valuable metal from electronics, such as copper. Higher value materials, such as gold and silver, are often removed from highly integrated electronics through the use of acids  and other chemicals, which also emit vapours in areas where recycling is not properly regulated. Thus, the negative effects of informal recycling of e-waste on air are the most dangerous for those who handle this waste, and pollution can extend thousands of kilometres away from recycling sites.

Moreover, when e-waste is disposed of improperly in ordinary landfills or in places where waste is dumped illegally, both heavy metals and flame retardants can enter the e-waste directly into the soil, causing contamination of the underlying groundwater or contamination of crops that can be planted nearby in the future. When the soil is contaminated with heavy metals, crops become vulnerable to the absorption of these toxins, which can cause even more disease.

After soil contamination, heavy metals from e-waste, such as mercury, lithium, lead and barium, drain through the ground and reach groundwater. When these heavy metals reach groundwater, they eventually make their way into ponds, streams, rivers and lakes. Through these routes, water is subjected to a process of acidification and toxicity, generating disastrous consequences for animals, plants and communities, even if they are a few kilometres away. Clean drinking water thus becomes problematic to find. Acidification can destroy marine and freshwater organisms, disrupt biodiversity and damage ecosystems. If acidification is present in the water supply, it can damage ecosystems to the point where recovery is questionable, if not impossible.

Therefore, the improper disposal of e-waste is incredibly dangerous for the global environment, which is why it is so important to be aware of this problem. To avoid the toxic effects of e-waste, it is essential that we recycle electronic products properly so that items can be recycled, reconditioned, resold, or reused. We will only be able to improve the situation of e-waste if we are properly educated about the correct measures to dispose of this waste!

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