What is Electronic Waste?

In our electronic-driven era, we are witnessing more and more gadgets being released to the market. Do you ever wonder what happens to electronic devices when they reach their lifespan and need to be upgraded? What about the gadgets that are damaged and owners decide to simply replace them? Outdated or damaged electronics are all rendered electronic waste or simply e-waste. Let’s dig deeper and understand what electronic waste is, what is recycled from our gadgets and appliances, and of course why the proper disposal of electronic waste matters.

What is electronic waste?

Electronic waste is a term used to refer to devices that have been rendered obsolete, inoperable or unwanted. These devices range from smartphones to computers to microwaves to TVs. As technology continues to progress every year the majority of electronic devices become outdated just after few years of use. When not disposed of correctly, these devices pose a great health risk to humans and animals.  They contribute components such as beryllium, cadmium, and lead to the environment when put into landfill which is harmful and may cause health problems. 

Statistics pertaining to electronic waste is interesting and worrisome at the same time. It is reported that obsolete electronic products are filling landfills across the globe at a rapid rate. In fact, more than 100 million computers are rendered unusable and thrown away in the U.S. alone, with less than 20 percent making it to be recycled. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, it is estimated that approximately 60 million metric tons of electronic waste enter landfills annually. Proper disposal of electronic waste is becoming more of an necessity today than ever before. Raising awareness about electronic waste should be mentioned just as often as glass, metals, plastic, and any other recyclable materials.

What electronic waste is recyclable?

Think of all the electronic devices you have in your home. From telephone systems to refrigerators to mobile phones to PCs to laptops to CRT monitors to scanners –  everything has a material that can be reused and re-purposed. Some of the materials that are extracted from electronic devices and put to good use include aluminum, copper, brass, nickel, cardboard, copper paper, amber glass, green glass, and clear glass.

Depending on the material to be recycled, recycle facilities often employ different processes. Once all the materials are sorted and graded, they are sent to different sections in the recycling center to be re-manufactured. Televisions and monitors are sent to television manufacturers, higher-grade materials for laptops and CPUs are reused; lower-grade components such as copiers, keyboards, and printers are sent to a machine that shreds them, and then recycled into circuit boards. Cathode ray tubes used in video cameras, TVs and computer monitors are broken down and the yoke is removed before dumping. Gold plated components such as chips are chemically stripped using hydrochloric acid and nitric acid for reuse. Broken-down scrap metals goes through melting and then are used to make new components or other metal goods. Almost everything goes to good use!

Why does e-waste matter?

Understanding of our environment and the state laws created to ensure the proper disposal of electronic waste is very important. More regulations are being developed to prevent the improper disposal of obsolete electronic devices. From cadmium to lead to mercury, electronic waste contains a wide range of toxic elements that causes lasting damage to the environment as well as the public health. These components end up in bodies of water, air, solid and groundwater that affects both wild and domesticated animals. The traces can also be found in crops and drinking water which we consume everyday.

By providing endless reuse capabilities, natural resources and the environment at large are conserved. Water and air pollution caused by bad habit of hazardous disposal is avoided. Recycling also reduces drastically the amount of greenhouse gas emitted from manufacturing firms.

Solving the problem of electronic electronic waste disposal starts with simple habit changes. Just as you would recycle cans, bottles, and newspapers you can learn to recycle electronic waste, or dispose them correctly. Audiovisual and computer components, TVs, stereos equipment, VCRs, smartphones, and other handheld devices contain a load of valuable substances. Some contain silver, some gold, and others aluminum among other precious metals that could be reused. With a little effort and responsible disposing, almost every electronic device is easily recycled.