A The intense rate of change in the world gives rise to numerous new products - many of them electronic. What is brand new and state-of-the-art one month is quickly relegated to ‘old model’ status the next. Within the world of computing, this frenetic pace of change has led to millions of out-dated, worthless products. Keystone, an American-based research company reported, ‘In 2005, one computer became obsolete for every new one introduced in the market. By the year 2010, experts estimate that in the USA there will be over 500 million obsolete computers. Most of these computers will be destined for landfills, incinerators or hazardous waste exports.’ Old, outdated keyboards, monitors and hard drives all combine to produce what is now widely known as ‘e-waste’ and the way to appropriately dispose of them is proving to be a challenge.
B Most computers are a complicated assembly of hundreds of different materials, many of which are highly toxic. Most computer users are unaware that these toxic metals, acids, plastics and other substances have been shown to be the cause of various blood diseases and cancers. Amongst workers involved in the recycling of computer products, there has been a proliferation of blood diseases. Printed circuit boards for example, contain heavy metals such as antimony, silver, chromium, zinc, lead, tin and copper. Environmentalist Kieran Shaw estimates there is hardly any other product for which the sum of the environmental impacts of raw material, extraction, industrial refining and production, use and disposal is so extensive as for printed circuit boards.
C Workers involved in the disposal of computers via incineration are themselves being exposed to significantly high levels of toxicity. Copper, for example, is a catalyst in the release of harmful chemicals when exposed to the high temperatures of incineration. In US and Canadian environments, incineration is one of the greatest sources of heavy metal contamination of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, another form of incineration, smelting, can present dangers similar to incineration. Concerns have been expressed that the Noranda Smelter in Quebec, Canada is producing atmospheric pollutants from the residual presence of plastics in the e-scrap.
D In an effort to explore other alternatives, landfills have been tried. Studies have shown however, that even the best landfills are not completely safe. In fact the shortcomings of dealing with waste via modern landfills are well documented. The main ‘offender’ in the area of metal leaching is mercury. In varying degrees, mercury escapes or leaches from certain electronic devices such as circuit breakers, condensers and computer circuit boards into the soil. According to Phil Stevenson, managing director of CleanCo a recycling plant in the UK, “Everyone knows that landfills leak - it has become common knowledge. Even the best, state-of-the-art landfills are not completely tight throughout their lifetimes, to one degree or another, a certain amount of chemical and metal leaching occurs. The situation is far worse for older or less stringent dump sites.” If uncontrolled fires are allowed to burn through these landfill areas, other toxic chemicals such as lead and cadmium are released.
E An overwhelming majority of the world’s hazardous e-waste is generated by the industrialised market economies. Because labour costs are cheap and government regulations in some countries are decidedly lax, the exporting of e-waste has been practiced as another method to deal with its disposal. In the USA for example, Datatek, a research company, estimated that it was 12 times cheaper to ship old computer monitors to China than it was to recycle them. Data on the prevalence of this activity is scarce due to past bad publicity and dealers of e-scrap not bothering to determine the final destination of the products they sell. In 1989 the world community established the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste for Final Disposal to stop the industrialised nations of the OECD from dumping their waste on and in less-developed countries.
F Europe has taken the lead on e-waste management by requiring governments to implement laws controlling the production and disposal of electrical products. The European Union (EU) has drafted legislation on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (the WEEE Directive) based on a concept known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Essentially, EPR places the responsibility of the production and disposal squarely on the shoulders of the producers of electronic products. It requires that producers consider carefully the environmental impact of the products they bring to the marketplace. The aim of EPR is to encourage producers of electrical equipment to prevent pollution and reduce resource and energy use at each stage of the product life cycle. The lead in Europe has been necessary because WEEE is about three times higher than the growth of any other municipal waste streams.
G WEEE legislation will phase-out the use of toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and lead in electronic and electrical goods by the year 2008. It will require producers of electrical equipment to be responsible financially for the collection, recycling and disposal of their products. It has stipulated that products containing any lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxic substances must not be incinerated. It encourages producers to integrate an increasing quantity of recycled material in any new products they produce. In fact, between 70% and 90% by weight of all collected equipment must be re-cycled or re-used. These directives will go a long way toward improving the e-waste problem in Europe and other governments of the world should look seriously at implementation of some or all of the legislation.
Questions 1 - 7
Reading Passage has 7 paragraphs, A-G.
Choose the correct heading for each paragraph from the list of headings below.
Write the correct number, i-xi, in boxes 1-7 on your answer sheet.
1 Paragraph A
2 Paragraph B
3 Paragraph C
4 Paragraph D
5 Paragraph E
6 Paragraph F
7 Paragraph G