What is E-Waste and Why Does It Matter?
Updated: May 20
Electronic waste is commonly referred to as e-waste, and is used to describe electronic products that are unwanted, obsolete, and/or aren’t working properly anymore. This has become a more common problem as technology has continued to innovate at an accelerated pace. Many think that e-waste can be treated similarly to regular waste when it comes to recycling. Unfortunately this isn’t true, and e-waste requires special attention as far as safe recycling or disposal goes. Here’s why:
Electronics are much more difficult to dispose of safely
Many electronics feature designs that make them difficult to take apart or recycle. This problem is compounded by the fact many electronics contain toxic materials like lead and mercury that can leach into the environment when sitting in a landfill. Additionally, electronics aren’t broken down easily by nature, which means that they can sit around for years like plastic does.
Most e-waste is not recycled
The EPA estimated that in 2011, the US created more than 3 million tons of e-waste, but only 25% of that was recycled, while the vast majority of electronics were sent to landfills. Landfills that choose to burn their waste also release dioxin, a toxic chemical that is created when plastics in electronics are incinerated.
Many electronics recyclers don’t actually recycle your electronics, they export them
Moreover, many recyclers will opt to send the electronics they receive elsewhere. Industry experts estimate that 50-80% of the electronics that recyclers receive will eventually be shipped abroad to places like China and Nigeria to be dismantled Oftentimes this is done under terrible conditions and leads to horrible effects on health and extensive environmental damage.
E-waste can threaten your privacy and security
E-waste needs to be handled responsibly and securely because many products like phones and hard drives can still contain private user information and data. It’s not wise to simply discard your phone or computer in the garbage and think that your data is safe. Oftentimes, data you think you deleted will actually remain in your electronics’ memory, which is why you should take advantage of local electronics recyclers who will securely erase your data.
E-waste is a constantly growing issue
As a society, we are becoming more and more dependent on technology and electronics. The Internet of Things (IoT) is also helping to push electronics into every area of our lives, whether it’s through Amazon Echo or smartphones or smart homes. Developing countries are steadily becoming bigger consumers of technology, and their demand is expected to increase in the future as the price of already affordable products like smartphones and computers continues to decrease . All of this means that electronics will become more ubiquitous around the world, which will only accelerate the rate at which e-waste is created.