Understanding E-Waste: What It Is and Why It Matters

Understanding E-Waste

E-waste is a pressing issue that is only getting worse. In 2021, it was estimated human beings would discard 57.4 million tonnes (approximately 63.3 million U.S. tons) of electronic waste. That amount, on average, is increasing by 2 Mt annually. As of 2023, there is about 347 Mt of unrecycled e-waste.

What E-Waste?

E-waste is the term for damaged or approaching-the-end-of-useful-life of everyday electronic devices. Examples include mobile phones, computers, telephones, fax machines, earbuds etc. Disposed electronic waste, so far, stands at 5,571,005 tons globally. This is worrisome because electronic devices can leak dangerous substances like lead and mercury into the environment and groundwater when inappropriately discarded or even recycled. It also puts the lives of the workers disassembling the gadgets in danger by exposing them to hazardous chemicals and fumes. For example, the soil of the Chinese e-waste site "Guiyu," where child labor is a frequent practice, contains some of the highest levels of heavy metals and dioxins worldwide (2,400 times above the recommended lead level limit in the water).

E-waste management is a necessity

E-waste management encompasses performing all necessary actions to handle e-waste in a way that is mindful of the environment. It involves the collection, recycling, and disposal of electronic waste. Globally, just 20% of discarded electronics are recycled through official, controlled routes. Meanwhile, the majority of e-waste in many developing nations is either dumped in landfills or handled haphazardly. The landfill e-wastes contaminate soil and groundwater with dangerous substances such as arsenic, mercury, lead, etc. This, by default, places the safety of both workers and the public at considerable risk.

what is e-waste

E-waste is destructive to the environment, humans, and animals. If the frightening rate at which electronic waste is harming the planet and its residents persists, the situation will spiral out of control, and at some point, the world as a whole may experience hardship. It is up to us to take charge of e-waste management to prevent irreversible issues in the future. We can mitigate e-waste contamination if we take a second to stop and think about how we can conduct our actions in a way that does not corrode the environment.

Tips for Reducing Your E-Waste Footprint

We can contribute to a cleaner environment by recycling electronics instead of mindlessly discarding them when they're no longer useful. Below are three simple, doable ways to do so.  

  • Prioritize recycling— always recycle products when you no longer need them.  
  • Take accountability— be an accountable consumer. Use refurbished products as opposed to buying new ones. 
  • Be careful of how you dispose of your old electronics— avoid disposing of electronic products, batteries, and accessories in any random trash cans. This opens the gateway for toxic substances to penetrate the soil and water bodies. Instead, discard them at trusted collection facilities where they can be reprocessed or properly put down.  

E-waste management is crucial for the people, economy, and biodiversity. Old cell phones, laptops, and televisions that we don't recycle wind up in landfills, where they take up space indefinitely. In a world that is facing an e-waste epidemic, you can help make a difference by reusing and recycling old devices and appliances to minimize e-waste.

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