Why is it Important to Recycle E-Waste?

Electronic waste is essentially any electronic device that has run its natural course or has been replaced by a newer model.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.

In the last three decades, there have been amazing advances in technology and engineering that have propelled innovation and automated significant parts of our lives. Most household chores can be done through an appliance now, a dishwasher to do the dishes, a washing machine to do the laundry, a vacuum cleaner to clean the floor, a rice cooker to make the rice, an electric kettle to heat the water, the examples are endless. 

Most of our care items like toothbrushes or shavers are also electric now.

No advance has been quite as impressive as the emergence of the modern smartphone, however. These devices are a thing of marvel and beauty. 

Despite all the amenities modern electronic devices provide us, there is a dark underbelly of producing so many electronic gadgets and devices. 

These equipment and devices have a relatively short usage time compared to 10 years ago. Almost every year, about 50% of iPhone users will switch out their older model for the newest model. Like cell phones, many other devices get switched out for newer versions each year. 

The increase in the production of electronic devices has inevitably led to an increase in electronic waste. Most of these electronic devices end up in the landfills of the developing world. There is a huge market in recycling electronic devices that we are mostly missing out on. 

Moreover, recycling these devices and equipment reduce the amount of virgin metal we need to mine from the Earth, it helps reduce the soil, air, and water pollution that results from toxic chemicals leaching out of the waste, recycling also ensures that fewer of these devices will be burned in the open air to collect precious metals out of them. 

This article will focus on these issues and explain in detail why it is of utmost importance to recycle electronic waste. 

Why is it Important to Recycle E-Waste?

Electronic waste a.k.a. E-waste is any electronic device that has been discarded due to end of use or replacement. 

E-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

In 2019, 53.6 million tons of electronic waste was dumped into landfills. That number is only expected to rise as electronics become cheaper and more available for many people in the developing world. In the current world, the largest generator of electronic waste is Asia. 

It is estimated that there are more electronic gadgets in this world than people. That is at least 7 billion gadgets waiting to be dumped into the landfills. 

The sheer volume of this waste is alarming. There are multiple reasons why it is of utmost importance to start recycling our electronic waste. Each year we recycle less than 20% of the e-waste we generate. This needs to change.

We will go over three key reasons why e-waste needs to be recycled in this article. 

Electronics contain precious metals: 

Electronics require precious elements we are likely to run out of if we do not start recycling them now. Many gadgets and devices contain aluminum, copper, chromium, silver, and gold among other metals. 

These metals are precious, yet the design flaws in current electronics make it quite difficult to extract these metals out of the devices. As a consequence, virgin metals are mined out of the Earth to make new electronics. 

Mining for metals leaves the area surrounding the mines devastated by polluting the soil, water, and air around it. Moreover, mining consumes a significant amount of fossil fuels which exacerbate global warming by increasing carbon emissions. 

Furthermore, mining for some of these metals has a human cost as many of these mines are in developing nations where miners are not allowed the basic human rights and often work for next to nothing as compensation. Their safety in these mines is another cause for concern. 

Metals are a limited resource and can be recycled time and time again. Precious elements that go into making electronic devices are hard to recycle because of the way these devices are designed.

To build a more sustainable future where these devices are properly recycled and the electronic market adopts the circular economy model, companies need to design better equipment and devices where separating the metals for recycling will not be a challenging task. 

Electronic waste leach toxic chemicals into the environment: 

Electronics, particularly older electronics contain high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury which are all extremely toxic metals.

Most electronics are exported to Africa and Asia, despite the European Union (EU) posing a ban on exporting electronic goods. 

Electronic waste makes their way into the black market where they are moved to scrap yards in developing nations, like Ghana and India. 

Most workers here who work to collect precious metals from these electronics are unskilled. Much of these electronics are burned in the open air to collect the metals from them. This releases dioxins into the air, dioxins are carcinogenic materials that are released when plastics are not burned at a high enough temperature. 

These toxic gasses do not only affect the scrapyard workers, communities move near the scrapyards and actively make a living off of scavenging off of the scraps. 

All these people are at risk of developing cancer from the harmful gasses released in the air when these wastes are burned. 

The toxic metals leaching out of the electronics pollute soil and groundwater. These metals directly poison the scrapyard workers and bioaccumulate in vegetation around the scrapyards. These eventually make their way into the agricultural products and accumulate in people.

These toxic metals are extremely poisonous and can cause neurodegeneration, developmental disorders, cancer, etc. 

Electronic waste take up significant space in landfills: 

Electronic wastes take up an incredible amount of space in landfills. In 2019, 57 million tons of electronic wastes ended up in landfills. It is the fastest-growing solid waste in the world at the moment. With Asia being the biggest contributor. 

In many Asian countries now, most people have disposable income. Many local electronic companies are emerging all over Asia. In South Asia for example, most countries now have their own cell phone companies as well as home appliance companies. 

These companies meet the demand of the local market, however, these companies generally do not design long-lasting products. As a result, tons of electronics are thrown into the garbage each year. 

A lack of recycling facilities as well poor waste collection and treatment services result in tons of electronics being thrown out into landfills. 

Electronic waste accumulation is not only a problem in Asia however, it is a global problem. The United States also generates mountains of electronic waste which end up in landfills. 

Landfills are cheap in the USA, unlike Europe where each square foot of land costs significantly more than in the US. This does not stop tons of e-waste from being smuggled out of Europe and into developing nations and China. 

To summarize, electronic waste is a mounting issue for most nations. Electronics are resource-heavy and can be recycled for a significant profit. However,  the current system makes recycling a very expensive affair, compared to making devices from virgin materials. 

For things to change we need policy changes that will ensure companies have the incentive to design easily recyclable devices. 

Conclusion:

The increase in the production of electronic devices has inevitably led to an increase in electronic waste. Most of these electronic devices end up in the landfills of the developing world. There is a huge market in recycling electronic devices that we are mostly missing out on. 

Moreover, recycling these devices and equipment reduce the amount of virgin metal we need to mine from the Earth, it helps reduce the soil, air, and water pollution that results from toxic chemicals leaching out of the waste, recycling also ensures that fewer of these devices will be burned in the open air to collect precious metals out of them. This article focuses on these issues and explains in detail why it is of utmost importance to recycle electronic waste. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Importance of Recycling Electronic Waste

How do you dispose of electronic waste? 

The best thing to do is to sell it or donate it to someone who’ll use it. Or, if it’s broken or reached its end of use, you can send it in for recycling. Look up e-waste recyclers near you online. Some recyclers buy it for a small price.

Can electronic waste be recycled? 

Yes, almost all electronic waste has some recyclable materials. And it is very important to recycle electronic waste. These are precious resources and cannot be replaced once we run out of reserves. 

Can electronic waste be reused? 

Yes, most electronic waste can be easily repaired and reused. This is why it’s important to donate or sell old electronics to make sure it reaches the end of their lifespan before it ends up in a  recycling center. 

What are the most common electronic waste items? 

Most common electronic waste includes cell phones, LCD computer monitors, LCD televisions, etc. 

How do you recycle old technology? 

Electronic waste is recycled by taking the reusable parts out of it first. The plastics are separated and recycled like any other plastic. The metal parts are also reused in newer devices. 

Why is electronic waste a problem? 

Electronic waste is a problem for many reasons, we have too much of it in the landfills and it’ll only increase if we do nothing, it is a resource-rich waste and we are wasting millions of tons of resources by not recycling it, many of the metals and minerals used in modern devices are sparse, and we are actively running out, lastly, electronic waste leach toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, the soil, and water which poisons people and the natural ecosystem alike. 

 

 

 

 

References: 

  1. What is E-waste? Definition and Why It’s Important. (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://www.ewaste1.com/what-is-e-waste/
  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/
  5. What is E-waste and how to recycle it – Iberdrola. (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://www.iberdrola.com/sustainability/what-is-e-waste
  6. E-Waste & its Negative Effects on the Environment | Elytus. (2022). Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://elytus.com/blog/e-waste-and-its-negative-effects-on-the-environment.html
  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/




What was missing from this post which could have made it better?

Leave a Comment