What is E-Waste and What is Its Impact?

There are hundreds of benefits or advantages that technology has brought to different countries and societies over the years, and as it becomes more advanced and available, almost everyone in the world has at least one piece of technology in their possession, which could often be in the form of smartphones, computers, and TVs. Besides the usual gadgets, technology can also be found today in appliances like refrigerators and washing machines; hence the reason why the term “Internet of Things (IoT)” was coined, as most of the gadgets, appliances, and items that have technology in them can be connected to the internet and can sometimes be controlled by a single device.

However, there are also downsides to the advancement and growing availability of technology, and one of those drawbacks is the increase in the amount of e-waste on Earth. So, what is E-waste? And does it have a negative effect on the planet’s environment? We will find out the answers to these questions as we take a look at the definition and impact of e-waste.

What is E-Waste?

E-waste, also called electronic waste, is a term utilized to describe electrical parts or electronic devices that are discarded or are no longer usable. However, in recent years, used electronics that are supposed to be repaired for resale, reuse, or refurbishment are regarded as e-waste as well.

Electronic waste is classified into ten categories, and each of those categories has different waste management plans and initiatives. Here are those various categories of electronic waste:

  • Small household appliances (vacuum cleaners, electric fans, etc.)
  • Large household appliances (freezers, refrigerators, and washing machines)
  • IT equipment (monitors and CPUs)
  • Consumer electronics (smartphones, tablets, TVs)
  • Toys
  • Tools (impact drills and hammer drills)
  • Lamps and Luminaires
  • Monitoring and control equipment (surveillances cameras and alarms)
  • Automatic dispensers
  • Medical devices

Take note that these categories are determined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency or EPA, and there are also other agencies that created different sets of categories.

Growth of E-Waste

broken phones

Because of the rapid growth and expansion of technology around the world, the amount of e-waste continues to increase, as there isn’t an effective plan yet on how to reduce e-waste and how most discarded parts can be used to their full potential again. Since most e-waste materials are made of plastic, they have a much longer time to decompose, and it is even calculated that it would take about 450 years for plastic to degrade.

Imagine if there are approximately 200 million PCs or personal computers made each year, and after five years, computers that are made in a specific year will become obsolete or broken. Once you get rid of those 200 million PCs after five years, it would take 445 years more for them to truly be wiped out or decomposed on Earth. And, in between those 400+ years, more and more PCs are still being produced.

Because of the overwhelming amount of devices or gadgets that have a slow deterioration or decomposing rate being produced per year, e-waste is considered by many analysts to be the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. In 2016, it was estimated that 44.7 million tons of e-waste were produced, and the weight and the size of that e-waste are equal to 4500 Eiffel towers. Then, according to a study conducted by the United Nations, the average amount of electronic waste discarded by all countries is 50 million metric tons. Moreover, the United States is the number one producer of electronic waste, as it was concluded that the said country discards over 3 million tons of e-waste per year.

E-Waste’s Impact on the Environment

Besides having a long decomposing rate, e-waste also has high amounts of lead, which can have environmental and health risks when they are abundant in a specific area or landfill where they are incinerated. Besides lead, e-waste can also produce high levels of dioxins, carcinogens, and heavy metals that can mix with the air, water, and soil.

The release of toxic chemicals by burning computer parts and other types of e-waste can result in the deterioration of the atmosphere, which would then lead to less clean air for us to breathe in.

Recycling E-Waste

In order to combat the rapid increase of e-waste, many organizations around the world have started the initiative of recycling e-waste so that discarded electronics and appliances can still be utilized instead of being thrown away and contribute to the negative impact of technology on the environment. However, before organizations can start a recycling drive or initiative, they must first be accredited or certified by a proper environment-focused government agency like the US Environmental Protection to ensure that they have the knowledge or the expertise to recycle or repair a 100% working device or appliance.

One of the biggest communities in the world that recycle electronic waste and sell them is Guiyu, a town located in the Guangdong region of China. Because of the massive e-waste recycling and processing community in Guiyu, it is now referred to by people as the “e-waste capital of the world.”

Interestingly, Guiyu was once a town that was once focused on agriculture, but by the mid-1990s, it quickly turned into an e-waste recycling community where more than 75% of the locals were working on recycling and refurbishing electronic waste. Because of the negative effects of e-waste on the environment, Guiyu lost its natural resources as the water, the soil, and the atmosphere within the town are contaminated by toxic chemicals emitted or produced by different computer parts. In addition, health concerns among locals are also a major problem in Guiyu.

Aside from Guiyu, there are also several e-waste recycling sites located in Nigeria, India, the Philippines, Ghana, and Australia. As more and more e-waste is produced every year, it is expected that the number of e-waste recycling sites around the world should increase as well. As evident through reading this article, electronic waste is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, and thankfully, the United Nations. non-profit organizations, and recycling companies are creating various programs to reduce as much e-waste as possible through recycling.