Disposing of unwanted consumer electronics is becoming a big issue, with 140 million cell phones alone, for example, landing in US landfills every single year, as Americans switch out their existing phones for new ones on an average of every 22 months. This results in toxic waste seeping into the groundwater from the soil, contaminating both severely, as the phone breaks down over time.
This problem has been recognized to be so serious that many businesses try to export this type of waste to developing countries to cause toxic waste dumps there, often breaking the law to do so, rather than keeping it in their own countries.
However, other nations have taken the lead in reducing this pollution, as for instance, the European Union Directive 2011/65/EU prohibits any electronics goods from being sold in this region if it contains cadmium, mercury, lead, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are recognized to be hazardous, in a directive passed on June 8, 2011.
This is meant to reduce the amount of such chemicals in landfills originating from electronic items such as old televisions or computers or cell phones, and thus to prevent human exposure in the long run.
This type of law is useful in safeguarding human health, as lead exposure over a long period of time, to cite just a few examples, is associated with renal failure, dementia and hypertension, even with low levels of lead poisoning.
The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Standard (RoHS) helps limit exposure to chemicals in electronics.
Linking Gas Detectors to Electronic Waste
Companies often sell safety equipment which is aimed at saving human life. It is therefore only logical that the same companies should not function in any way that endangers human health or life. One example of this is gas detector manufacturing, which should take care to avoid the use of lead which is a potent environmental toxin.
Since it is impossible to sell instruments which violate prohibited substance regulations in many European countries, most manufacturers have turned to making instruments which are in accordance with these laws. Even so, using disposable gas detectors which are meant to last only a year or so, and which must then be thrown away to land in a landfill, means significant pollution is taking place.
This is so even if these instruments do not contain hazardous substances. Thus, safety leaders must take steps to make sure they do not endanger human life while administering their gas detection protocol.
Some simple steps are summed up in the time-honored formula: reduce, reuse, and recycle. These are already familiar from ordinary household items, such as milk containers and carry bags for groceries, which are reused a couple of times before being placed in recycling containers. The same approach helps with gas detectors as well.
There is no real need to keep a large number of reserve instruments on hand in case one fails, because the following avenues are already available for help:
Service programs not only provide automatic surveillance of fleet health but also order repair parts or even instrument replacements automatically, thus avoiding the trouble of checking each instrument manually, ordering parts and having to wait for delivery, and then look desperately for time to service the faulty instrument.
Fleet management software helps managers to match instrument usage to actual users at any time, thus reducing the number of instruments overall. Any user can assign the instrument to himself by just checking it out. This will reduce equipment costs as well as preventing pollution.
If a gas detector is designed well, and maintained as recommended, it should last for several years. Some features which indicate a good design include:
Firmware which can be upgraded throughout the working life of the instrument, since this allows the instrument to be updated to more advanced performance standards without having to change the hardware. While many electronic goods do become obsolete even before they have been unpacked, good manufacturers will offer enhancements of existing products to prevent this.
Rechargeable batteries are another valuable feature which prevent frequent discarding of batteries, since these are among the major pollutants in electronic goods.
A gas detector which is made to function for a set period after which it must be thrown away is necessarily inferior in respect of environmental impact compared to one which allows the batteries to be replaced or recharged over a long time of using the same instrument, even if the latter costs a little more.
Replaceable exterior filters which make sure that the instrument need not be thrown away if it happens to come in accidental contact with oil, for instance, but just needs to have the filter removed and discarded to allow it to continue to function normally within moments.
This type of filter keeps the sensors safe from damage and contamination in many ways and allows the instrument to operate for years, reducing the budget for gas detectors and minimizing environmental pollution.
When it comes to gas detection, remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle whenever possible.
Many gas detector components can be successfully recycled, by returning retired instruments to the manufacturers if possible, or using their service programs if they offer one.
Guaranteed instruments, especially if the guarantee is good for the lifetime of the instrument, are valuable in that the manufacturer will replace or repair parts as needed if they wear out, making it possible to continue to use the same instrument for a longer period, while they take the responsibility of recycling the parts they remove or replace.
Service programs are important since they not only replace faulty or malfunctioning detectors on demand but accept the components for recycling. Calibration cylinders provide gas for gas detector sensor calibration. While being very important for the program to succeed, they must be chosen correctly.
If the cylinder is too large, it will remain unused by the expiry date, wasting resources. On the other hand, if it is too small for the user’s needs, too frequent replacements will become necessary, increasing the costs as well as the amount of waste.
Some companies do help choose the right cylinder size by evaluating the user’s pattern of usage. Auto-replenishment programs are also useful in ensuring efficient use of calibration cylinders. Checking the bottle is a vital part of recycling, once the cylinder is emptied, because aluminum bottles are often accepted by local recyclers.
The electronic waste already in landfills may take decades to deal with successfully, but we can at least dampen the trend by using these principles to reduce waste in the gas detection program. This benefits users by reducing costs and time spent on maintenance and servicing, while helping protect the environment.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Industrial Scientific.
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