The E-Waste Problem and How To Help [Infographic]

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e-waste problem

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According to a UN report, by 2050, the global electronic waste generated each year will have doubled from 50 million tonnes in 2020 to 110 million tonnes.

As our collective adoption of technology and electronics continues to grow, so does the amount of electronic waste (or e-waste) that’s building up around the globe.

Between TVs, cell phones, computers, and everything else with a circuit board, it’s already a considerable amount – 50 million tonnes of it are produced every year!

For instance, in 2020 alone, small household equipment such as irons, kettles, toasters, vacuum cleaners, etc., made up 37% of e-waste. Larger equipment contributed 22% to the e-waste problem, while small IT gadgets like phones and laptops added 9% to e-waste.

Surprisingly, small household appliances contribute the biggest portion to the e-waste problem. The trend is likely to worsen with the adoption of 5G technology and the internet of things.

As people rush to upgrade and connect their devices to the internet, older devices may end up in landfills, further compounding the e-waste problem.


Why is e-waste terrible for the environment?

Electronic devices comprise numerous components made from rare earth metals and materials such as gold, silver, lithium, and cobalt. A single metric tonne of circuit boards can contain more than 50 times the amount of gold and 30-40 times the amount of copper mined from just a single metric ton of ore in the U.S.

Besides rare earth metals, electronic devices also contain toxic heavy metals like beryllium, cadmium, lead, and mercury that harm both humans and the environment.

With most e-waste ending up in landfills, the heavy toxic metals seep into the ground, into the soil and water supply systems.

Again, with the high demand for electronic devices, the need for rare earth components grows bigger. This, in turn, drives mining and manufacturing demand that’s sometimes worse for the environment.


Is E-Waste Recycling the Solution?

E-Waste Recycling

E-waste recycling is only part of the solution. According to an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report, the world generated more than 53 metric tons of e-waste in 2019. Only 17.4% was documented as properly collected and recycled. The rest most likely ended up in landfills, were incinerated, or still stuck in people’s closets.

Some of the purported recycled e-waste from developed nations actually ended up in developing countries in Asia and Africa, where informal and unregulated “recycling” happens.

At most of these developing nations’ recycling workshops, workers recover valuable materials by burning devices or using toxic heavy metals such as mercury to recover gold.

Without protective gear, these workers are exposed to hazardous materials, which may increase health complications such as premature births, congenital malformations, and lead poisoning.

Wealth nations send more than 20% of their e-waste to developing countries. Your fried toaster may find its way to the landfills of Ghana or China.


So, what can you do about it?

The e-waste problem requires a multi-pronged approach. For instance, manufacturers ought to make better products – durable and recyclable.

Gadgets should also be repairable, and people empowered to repair them. While some companies deny customers the right to repair citing copyright, users must assert their rights.

Additionally, companies should be held responsible for products within and beyond their useful life. For instance, they can provide customers with simpler options to get repairs, upgrades, and even spare parts.

Recycling should also be made more convenient. For instance, you should have the ability to drop your dead gadget at a recycling point, have it evaluated, and either repaired or sold for reuse, refurbishment, or recycling.

At the home level, keep the three tenets of environmental protection while dealing with the e-waste problem: Recycle. Reuse. Repair.


Protect the environment, save some money!

Can you repair or reuse the gadget? For instance, old tablets can turn into digital photo frames. Think twice before rushing off to buy another gadget to replace an old one. Do you REALLY need it? Can the old one be repaired?

We must deal with our need and desire for more things (read greed) to begin addressing the e-waste problem and other environmental issues.

Most of the habits that protect the environment are also good for our health (including mental health) and friendly to our pockets.

Check out the infographic below to learn more about the e-waste problem and what can be done to lessen the negative environmental impacts.

[ Click to view full size

ewaste infographic

Did this infographic change how you think about e-waste? How do you deal with your e-waste? Tweet us @greenerideal and let us know.

{This article has been updated for freshness and consistency.}

  • Greener Ideal Staff

    Greener Ideal helps you live your life in more sustainable ways with green living tips and commentary on the latest environment news. We want to protect the planet and reduce our collective carbon footprint.