what is e-waste

What is E-Waste and why is it a problem?

We all have them lying around at home, electronics that haven’t been used for years and gadgets that no longer work. Eventually, we get around to sorting through it and throwing out the broken and abandoned electronics. Unfortunately very little of this e-waste finds its way to the right place and that is a big problem.

What is E-Waste?

E-Waste is short for electronic waste and it includes almost everything in our homes that has a cable or a battery. That means small things like lamps, remote controls and toy RCs but also the bigger household appliances like washing machines. Of course, the items that we usually think of as electronics, smartphones, computers and tablets, are e-waste as well. They are also a big part of the problem, a problem that is growing quickly.

Why is E-Waste a problem?

The short answer is that it’s an environmental nightmare when it is not taken care of correctly. So, how much e-waste is recycled? Only 17,4% of the total e-waste globally is properly recycled, which is an alarmingly low number. Another alarming number that is not so low is 57,4 million metric tonnes. That is how much e-waste that was generated in 2021. From 2011 to 2021 yearly e-waste is up by a staggering 62%.

Electronics are full of valuable metals that are non-renewable, which means they exist in a finite amount. A modern smartphone is crammed full of copper, aluminum, gold, silver, cobalt and palladium. Not only are these valuable resources, they are also very hard to dig out of the ground. Mining and processing them causes huge amounts of emissions and expands gigantic amounts of energy. To put it in perspective, recycling 1 million laptops would save the energy expended by around 3700 US homes during a full year.

Instead of being recycled the vast majority of our e-waste is dumped in landfills where it contaminates the ground. The soil often becomes contaminated by toxic materials like mercury, lead and many more. The contamination then spreads into groundwater and from there into nearby lakes poisoning marine life. It also pollutes the air that we then breathe, making both us and our unborn children sick.

One popular solution is exporting e-waste to underdeveloped countries that lack regulation. In places where there are no laws to protect the workers or the environment, it’s cheaper to deal with the problem.

What you can do to help

  1. Postpone upgrades – If your devices can still fill all your needs consider using them a while longer.
  2. Donate and reuse – When you replace something and there are no major faults with the old electronics, find a new home for them.
  3. Make sure the e-waste is recycled – Always take your old electronics to dedicated recycling facilities. Sometimes the manufacturers themselves will take on old devices.

Rugged computers help reduce e-waste

Quickly replacing high-end electronics is one of the worst things we can do, it’s bad even if the old ones are recycled. When you work in an environment that takes a toll on your equipment consider choosing rugged computers. A rugged computer will have several times the lifespan of an ordinary consumer product. Handheld Group has a good term for this, Environmental Cost of Ownership. Think about the environmental impact a purchase will have over time. Read more about the environmental cost of ownership here.