E-Waste or electronic waste, simply refers to electronic devices that are thrown out or recycled. However, behind this simple term is a complex global problem: What exactly should we do with old electronics? They take an immense amount of energy and resources to create, and the materials used mean that they can’t be safely put into a landfill like many other types of waste.
All this leads to e-waste challenges – challenges many electronics users aren’t aware. To help put these issues into perspective, let’s take a look at the key facts behind e-waste that everyone should know (and some excellent reasons that everyone should try to recycle).
1. More That 5.5 Million Tons of Electronic Waste Have Been Thrown Out in 2020 So Far
Currently, it’s not even halfway through February, and 5.5 million tons of e-waste have already been created – you can watch a running timer on The World Counts. Estimates say that around 55 million tons of e-waste are created every year, but this number keeps climbing due to industry practices and expansion, so it can be difficult to predict a precise number.
2. E-Waste Accounts for Around 70% of Toxic Waste
This is a problem, because currently our methods of dealing with e-waste fall far behind the amount of waste being produced. While other toxic waste is Much e-waste is still sent to incinerators or landfills, for example, where it’s typically burnt or melted down. This is far from an ideal solution for toxic waste – in fact, it can make problems even worse, due to what e-waste contains.
3. E-Waste Contains Many Toxic Materials, Including Mercury, Lead, Arsenic, and Cadmium
Many different metals and chemicals are used to create things like LCD screens, computer chips, and other materials that we use in so many electronic devices. Many of these materials are toxic, and when e-waste is improperly disposed of, they can leak into the environment and cause long-term problems. Lead is one of the biggest culprits, and can cause neurological damage in humans exposed to high amounts in the environment. Burning e-waste tends to release toxic particles into the air, where they settle in the surrounding landscape or are breathed in by nearby people.
4. E-Waste Also Contains a Lot of Gold and Silver
One reason people – especially smaller operations – try to reclaim e-waste is to harvest valuable metals. E-waste includes gold and silver components (both excellent conductors) that can be harvested. Improperly disposed e-waste not only causes environment problems, it also wastes a lot of gold and silver that could otherwise be re-used. Unfortunately, many current methods of harvesting these metals are in-efficient and cause additional problems.
5. Around 80% of the E-Waste in the U.S. is Shipped to Asia
Some reclamation and disposal systems in Asia are efficient, but others are very poor and are creating serious environmental consequences. Some sites are simply burn pits in the middle of a village, which obviously creates a lot of problems when getting rid of toxic waste. However, shipping the waste to Asia is currently the cheapest option for many United States organizations.
6. Recycling E-Waste is Good for the Economy
There is another option for e-waste: Reusing or recycling it. Not only is this safer, but it has economic benefits, too. Reports estimate that reusing or e-recycling devices like computers can create almost 300 more jobs per year than other disposal. But only around 20% of e-waste is recycled.
7. Small Electronic Devices Create More E-Waste Than Large Electronics
The majority of e-waste is from small electronic devices, not large devices like computers. Small devices tend to be much more common (a house can have a lot of smart devices and smartphones, but only one or two computers), and they tend to be replaced a lot more often.
8. Only Half the States Have Laws on E-Waste Recycling
Only 25 states have any laws regulating e-waste and setting up systems for recycling, and even fewer have laws prohibiting e-waste from being put into landfills. Most e-waste is generated by the United States, Canada, and Europe.
9. Most Old Electronics are Simply Kept – For Now
Around 75% of e-waste is usually just kept in the house in the form of old phones, etc. Why? Most people just aren’t sure what to do with them, from trade-ins to e-recycling options, so they tend to collect dust. When these devices are casually thrown away, they only increase the problem.
10. E-Waste Continues to Grow Faster
As this 2019 World Economic Forum report points out, e-waste is currently the fastest-growing type of waste in the world, which is quickly compounding the problems that the industry already has. More e-recycling options and better information on how to deal with e-waste is necessary to deal with this growing trend!