What is E-Waste?

Here we’ll answer the following questions about electronic waste and environmental pollution:

  1. What is E-waste and Where Does it Come From?
  2. How Does E-Waste Contribute to Environmental Pollution?
  3. How Does E-Waste Impact Our Daily Lives?
  4. How Can We Lessen the Impact of E-waste on the Environment?

First, let’s briefly define E-Waste:

  • E-Waste, short for electronic waste, is a term used to describe electronics that are no longer in the “use” phase of their life cycle–that is, they are broken, unwanted, or unused.

What is E-Waste and Where Does It Come From?

E-waste is any electronic that is no longer being used. That means it encompasses anything that used electricity at one point in its life. So, e-waste is anything from cameras, to phones, to refrigerators.

Based on a study out of the EU, the largest sources of E-waste include:

  • Large household appliances (42.1%)
  • Telecommunications equipment (33.9%)
  • Consumer equipment (13.9%)
  • Small household appliances (4.7%)

E-waste is largely composed of metals: 

  • 60.2% of E-waste is iron, steel, copper, and aluminium
  • 15% is plastics
  • 2.7% is pollutants

E-waste accounts for about 5-10% of global waste and contains a few harmful materials. Let’s now talk about why E-waste is a major global health and environmental issue.

How Does E-Waste Contribute to Environmental Pollution?

Key Takeaway: E-waste is made up of heavy metals and toxins that can leach into soils and water supplies. This is an especially large issue because the disposal and treatment of e-waste is highly unregulated.

Once consumers are done using an electronic product, we are supposed to bring this product to a recycling facility where the electronics can be broken down and  the materials separated so they can be reused or properly disposed of. Electronic recycling facilities ensure that the materials are reused or that any heavy metals and toxins are disposed of in a healthy and safe way.

However, fewer than 25% of Americans bring their electronics to these recycling facilities. (This number is estimated to be much lower on a global scale.) The rest just throw their electronics in the garbage. The e-waste is then brought to landfills and their disposal is entirely unregulated.

Although landfills have some methods for containing toxins, the lead, mercury, and other pollutants from e-waste will slowly leach downwards into the soil, and can make their way into local water systems.

E-waste in U.S. landfills accounts for 70% of the mercury in landfills, and 40% of the lead in landfills.

E-waste in landfills is contaminating the environment and is unhealthy for ecosystems as well as for human health.

How Does E-Waste Impact Me?

E-waste is a source of lead, mercury, and other harmful toxins that can make their way into our food and water supply. E-waste in many countries is burned, which increases global air pollution.

As unregulated e-waste decomposes, all of its toxins begin to make their way into the soil. Eventually the lead and mercury from the e-waste can end up in lakes, rivers, and irrigation systems. This means that we are being exposed to toxins from e-waste on a daily basis through the water we drink and the food we eat.

Outside of the U.S. e-waste recycling is highly unregulated. This means that in many countries such as India and China, large amounts of E-waste are piled up, and workers are made to work in unsafe conditions to dispose of the e-waste. They are exposed to dangerous toxins and sharp metals without proper protection.

Much of this waste is burned, releasing highly toxic chemicals into the air that contribute to global air pollution.

What Can We Do To Lessen the Impact of E-Waste on The Environment?

E-waste is a growing problem that will continue to get worse as we produce more electronic devices unless we can do something to mitigate it. Here are some steps you can take to slow the impact of e-waste on the environment and on our health:

  1. Stay informed: Reading this article and others will help keep you up to date on best practices to ensure that your e-waste is contributing as little as possible to environmental pollution.
  2. Buy longer lasting electronics: The fewer electronic devices we buy as a whole, the less electronic waste there will be. It’s important to do your research and make sure that, when you can, you are buying quality products that will last a long time and will not become waste.
  3. Repair your devices: If your electronic devices break, instead of tossing them out to buy a new one, do what you can to get them fixed so that you can lengthen their lifespan instead of contributing to e-waste.
  4. Reuse electronics: If you really need a new fridge, try to extend the lifetime of that old one by putting it out in the garage and using it to store bulk foods and drinks. You can also donate your old TVs, computers, and phones to friends or to your local secondhand store.
  5. Bring electronics to recycling facilities: When you do have an electronic that has reached the end of its life, never dispose of it in the garbage. Always bring your electronics to electronic recycling facilities where they can be reused or disposed of safely.

E-Waste丨Key Takeaways

  • E-waste is any electronic that is no longer being used
  • Global e-waste is mostly comprised of large household appliances, telecommunications equipment, and consumer devices
  • E-waste is made of mostly metals and plastic, and contains on average 2.7% toxins per device
  • Toxins from e-waste leach into our food and water supply and are harmful to our health and unregulated e-waste disposal contributes to global air pollution
  • We can reduce e-waste by staying informed, buying higher quality electronics, repairing devices instead of throwing them away, and bringing electronics to recycling facilities when they do need to be disposed of