What is Electronic Waste? And what are its main causes? 

Electronic waste is essentially any electronic device that has been discarded because it ran its natural course or has been replaced by a newer model. Electronic waste better known as E-waste is a serious environmental concern for all of us. These machines contain heavy metals that leach into the soil and groundwater and poison vegetation and aquatic life. 

With a rapidly evolving world that is driven by innovation, electronics have a high turnover rate. Every year newer electronics are being released which makes the old ones obsolete. These old electronics are either discarded or donated. Donated equipment that is not picked up by anyone eventually ends up being discarded as well. 

Electronic waste can be any electronic device that is discarded, this article will explain what items are considered to be Electronic waste, why our landfills are piling up with electronics, what types of gadgets have the highest turnover, and lastly, what impacts Electronic waste have on the environment and human health.  

What is electronic waste? 

Electronic waste or E-waste is any digital gadget or appliance that is discarded into the garbage bin. Unfortunately, in most places, there isn’t an efficient recycling system that takes care of this waste, this is why most end up in landfills. 

Electronic waste can be, 

  • home appliances like electric cookers and vacuum cleaners
  • Entertainment systems like televisions and DVD players
  • Communication devices like cell phones and computers
  • Electronic equipment like heart monitors and lamps
  • Office appliances like printers and copiers

Causes of electronic waste: 

The three main causes for the increasing heaps of e-waste are, 

  • Rapid innovation that renders older appliances obsolete
  • Frequent upgrades
  • End of use for a particular gadget or appliance

We are in an era of rapidly changing technology. Almost every year, we get dozens of new gadgets and gears that we’re tempted to try out. We are bombarded with new updated versions of our old phones, laptops, and smartwatches. 

Innovation has never been faster, companies are coming up with electronics for every aspect of our lives. From kitchen appliances to electric personal care devices, there is a distinct boom in the market.

Consumers are tempted to constantly upgrade their lifestyle by buying the best electronics with the most features.

When it comes to cell phones, however, especially iPhones, innovation is not the only thing that keeps the buyers constantly buying the new model.  About 50% of iPhone users will get the latest model as soon as it’s released.

Realistically, there isn’t  a great deal of difference between two consecutive iPhone models, but,  Apple aggressively markets their new products as cutting-edge technology that is a must try. This works. For most users, having the latest model is very important. 

Moreover, there is a rising issue of forced obsolescence where companies make newer electronics incompatible with older devices so users are forced to buy the latest models. 

Apple and many smartphone companies do this, almost every year a new iPhone is released, even though an iPhone can be comfortably used for years. Consumers do not always have a choice to keep their old devices either, older software stop working in newer models. 

The phones start lagging and the user experience deteriorates, forcing the owner to switch to a brand new iPhone.

Minor damages in phones cost more to repair than buying a new phone, this prompts most users to simply buy a new phone and throw the old one away. 

This unfortunately is the same for many other electronics. Very few electronics these days are thrown away because they reach the end of their use. All these reasons are why we have mounting heaps of electronics in our landfills. 

How big is the problem of Electronic waste? 

Millions of tons of E-waste are dumped into the trash bin, annually over 50 million tons of electronic waste end up in landfills. 

Some electronics are longer lasting than others, appliances like fridges or vacuum cleaners are not rolled out annually, cell phones or personal gadgets like a smartwatch or headphones, however, are always changing hands. 

Unfortunately, there is no proper recycling system for electronic waste in most places. Some companies have a buy-back system for their old devices, however, this is very limited and does not apply to all devices. 

In developing nations, these electronics are pried open for parts, often by unskilled workers. These workers are mostly exposed to toxic levels of lead, mercury, and cadmium which are all common in electronics. 

Impact of Electronic waste on public health: 

Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste in the world. It is filling up our landfills at unprecedented rates. Electronics often contain heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium. These metals are extremely poisonous to human health, and pollutes the soil, and groundwater. Vegetation and animals living in or around the landfills are adversely affected by these metals as well.

In many developing nations, these wastes are dumped into areas that are very close to human settlements. People living in these places often get developmental, and neurological damage from these toxic metals. 

Unskilled workers open these electronics up to salvage for parts, they risk exposure to these toxic metals as well. Moreover, these electronics are burned in open air which releases dioxins. Dioxins are known to cause cancer in humans. 

Most of the developed world’s electronic waste is exported to the developing nations. This is a huge problem for many communities as these wastes leach toxic chemicals into the soil and water.

In order to solve this problem of rising Electronic waste, what we need is a system where every device is reused until it breaks down, and once it breaks down, it should be recycled. 

Conclusion:

Electronic waste can be any electronic device that is discarded, this article explains what items are considered to be Electronic waste, why our landfills are piling up with electronics, what types of gadgets have the highest turnover, and lastly, what impacts Electronic waste have on the environment and human health.  

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs): What is Electronic Waste? And what are its main causes?

Does Electronic waste cause problems for the environment? 

Yes. Electronics have heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium which all are toxic for living beings. These metals mix with the ground and water bio-accumulate. This eventually reaches humans and can cause severe neurological and developmental issues. 

Is Electronic waste recyclable? 

Yes. The metals in electronic wastes are certainly recyclable, as well as most of the plastic. Extracting the metals from these wastes can prevent mining for more minerals. Mining causes damage to the environment, this can be avoided by recycling the metals in discarded electronics. 

Is Electronic waste toxic? 

Yes. Electronic waste contains toxic heavy metals. Besides these, these wastes are burned in the open air in some places, releasing toxic gasses that can cause severe respiratory issues in people. 

What causes Electronic waste pollution?  

The heavy metals from electronic wastes leach into the soil and accumulate in the animals living near landfills. These metals leach into groundwater and eventually enter human systems. Besides heavy metals, burning electronic waste results in toxic fumes being released that can cause severe respiratory issues and cancer in people who inhale that smoke for prolonged periods. 

What are the main problems of Electronic waste? 

Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste in the world right now, it occupies significant land space in landfills. Electronic waste uses up a great number of mineral resources, and when these are not recycled, it adds to further pollution as these resources need to be mined. Lastly, electronic waste causes an immense amount of plastic waste. 

What are the disposal methods of electronic waste?

The best way to get rid of electronic waste that is still functional is to sell it or donate it to someone who’ll use it. If these are not an option, many companies have a buyback policy. Also, many of these electronics are recycled, check your local guidelines. 

References: 

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  2. E-waste generation globally by key country 2019 | Statista. (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/499952/ewaste-generation-worldwide-by-major-country/
  3. E-Waste: Sources, Constituent Materials, and Problem Created by E-Waste (Notes). (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/waste-management/e-waste-sources-constituent-materials-and-problem-created-by-e-waste-notes/12344
  4. Ahmed, S. (2022). The Global Cost of Electronic Waste. Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/the-global-cost-of-electronic-waste/502019/
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  7. Soaring e-waste affects the health of millions of children, WHO warns. (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://www.who.int/news/item/15-06-2021-soaring-e-waste-affects-the-health-of-millions-of-children-who-warns
  8. (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://dtsc.ca.gov/electronic-hazardous-waste/
  9. E-Waste Crisis: Effects of Electronic Waste on Environment and Human Health. (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://unb.com.bd/category/Tech/e-waste-crisis-effects-of-electronic-waste-on-environment-and-human-health/78836
  10. Everything you need to know about electronic waste recycling – The Waste Management & Recycling Blog. (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://www.forgerecycling.co.uk/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-electronic-waste-recycling/

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