E-Waste: Examples, Effects, Disposal, Recycling & More

E-waste is a specific type of waste that has received more attention in recent times.

In the guide below, we outline various aspects of e-waste, such as:

– What e-waste is, and examples of e-waste

– The potential impact of e-waste that isn’t disposed of adequately

– Recycling e-waste and managing e-waste

 

Summary – Examples, Effects, Disposal, Recycling & More

What Is E-Waste?

‘E-waste’ is an abbreviation for electronic waste 

It generally includes products and items that use electricity and batteries 

 

Trend Of E-Waste Generation

E-waste generation appears to be growing on an annual basis globally, and also in specific countries.

 

Potential Impact Of E-Waste On The Environment & Human Health

Different types of e-waste might contain different potentially harmful/hazardous chemicals and metals that can cause damage to the environment (via waste pollution), as well as human health, if not disposed of adequately.

Some e-waste items might be more problematic or hazardous than others, and we list some of these items in the guide below.

Components of e-waste, such as batteries can obviously contain hazardous chemicals and heavy metals too.

We’ve put together separate guides specifically on the potential impact of battery waste, and also battery recycling

 

Legal Requirements For Disposing Of E-Waste In Different Countries

Different countries, States and regions have different legal requirements and regulations about how e-waste should be managed as waste – so, it’s important to check this.

Some countries and States don’t allow the disposal of some e-waste items in municipal waste streams, and instead require them to be disposed of to special e-waste recycling programs or waste management initiatives

Some countries and states have little or no regulations around e-waste disposal, and e-waste can end up in landfill

 

How Much E-Waste Currently Gets Recycled?

Different reports indicate that roughly only 20% of all e-waste generated gets recycled.

 

What Is The Potential For Recycling E-Waste Beyond Current Rates?

It appears that recycling e-waste has significant potential to increase in the future (as long as it’s practical and economically viable).

Some estimates say that up to 95% of e-waste is recyclable, which is much higher than the current 20% that is being recycled.

Some countries may have more potential to recycle e-waste than others based on the recycling and recovery facilities and technology they have access to.

 

Unrealized Economic Potential Of Recycling More E-Waste

There may be hundred of millions to billions of dollars worth of materials in e-waste to recover – particularly the metals in e-waste.

However, doing this in an economically feasible and practical way is a challenge

 

Finding Out How To Dispose Of, Or Recycle E-Waste In Your Area

First, do a search for any laws and regulations of e-waste disposal (i.e. what is legal)

An online search can done for e-waste disposal in your city or town

You can then do a search for e-waste disposal or recycling programs in your area (e.g. ‘e-waste recycling/disposal in [insert you suburb or city/town]’), and find instructions on where and how to drop off e-waste to the relevant e-waste management organisation 

Some programs, initiatives and e-waste collection services are free, whilst others are paid options, or issue a levy when consumers buy electronic products.

 

Improving The Management Of E-Waste

There might be several ways to improve the management of e-waste in the future, and, we list some of these potential options in the guide below.

 

What Is E-Waste?

E-waste is any electrical or electronic item that needs a plug or a battery to work.

 

Examples Of E-Waste

Examples of types of e-waste include but aren’t limited to:

Entertainment products like TV’s, game consoles, music equipment like stereos, and associated accessories (remotes, controllers, etc)

Laptops and computers, and associated accessories (mouses, hard drives, etc)

Home appliances and devices (microwaves, toasters, vacuums, etc)

Power tools and other electrical tools (drills, sewing machines, etc)

And, more

 

How Quickly Is E-Waste Generation Growing?

E-waste appears to be growing annually on both a global scale, and in specific countries.

 

Global

The amount of global e-waste is expected to increase by almost 17% to 52.2 million tonnes in 2021, or around 8% every year (cleanaway.com.au)

 

Australia

In Australia, e-waste is also the fastest-growing component of the municipal solid waste stream …

… municipal e-waste is growing up to three times faster than general waste in Australia …. [and] the country’s e-waste will increase more than 60% to a predicted 223,000 tonnes by the year 2024

– cleanaway.com.au

 

E-Waste is the fastest growing waste stream in Australia (marion.sa.gov.au)

 

Potential Impact Of E-Waste On The Environment & Human Health

Different types of e-waste have different materials, metals and chemicals in them that have potential to negatively impact the environment and humans in different ways. 

E-waste particularly has potential to cause a negative impact when it isn’t disposed of properly.

Some of the potential effects include:

– Mining

The mining of ores and raw materials that are used to make different e-waste products may have it’s own environmental impact and footprint.

 

– Pollution & Contamination

Pollution of contamination of soil, water and the environment can occur when chemicals leach out from e-waste products and items

 

– Human Health Issues

Can cause different human health problems when chemicals are exposed to humans, or when chemicals get into the water supply (lead, mercury, and sulfuric acid may be some examples)

 

– Resource Management Issues

There’s also the issue of resource depletion for metals and other materials that are scarce, and are used in different e-waste products.

 

From cleanaway.com.au

Besides plastic and glass, electronic devices contain base and special metals such as cobalt, tin and antimony as well as precious metals like silver, gold, and platinum, all of which can be fully recovered 

[It’s estimated] that 10 ounces of gold can be extracted from every tonne of printed circuit boards, while more than 100 tonnes of gold ore needs to be processed to get the same amount.

 

From marion.sa.gov.au: ‘Sending e-waste to landfill wastes non-renewable resources, including precious metals, glass and plastic’

 

– Other Information

From marion.sa.gov.au:

E-Waste … contains many toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium and lithium.

In landfill, e-waste leaches these hazardous substances into the soil and water which can lead to health and environmental problems.

 

From wikipedia.org:

Specifically with e waste, the following items and factors can present environmental and human health based risks and dangers during disposal or recycling processing (if they leach out, get into the air via emissions, get into water, contaminate soil, are ingested by or come into contact with wildlife):

Cathode ray tubes (in TV’s, computer monitors etc.) – May contain lead, barium and other heavy metals

Printed circuit boards – May contain glass dust, tin, lead, brominated dioxin, beryllium cadmium, and mercury

Chips and other gold plated components – May contain PAHs, heavy metals, brominated flame retardants, tin and lead

Plastics from printers, keyboards, monitors, etc. – May contain brominated dioxins, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons 

Computer wires – may contain PAHs

 

How Much E-Waste Currently Gets Recycled?

Various estimates indicate that only around 20% of all e-waste currently generated gets recycled (although, the recycling rates of individual e-waste items can vary).

Metals might be one of the materials that can be recovered from e-waste at higher rates than they currently are.

 

E-Waste In General

Of the 44.7 tonnes of e-waste generated around the world in 2016, only 20 per cent was delivered to appropriate recycling facilities (createdigital.org.au)

 

Around 10% of the world’s gold and 30% of silver goes into making electronics, but only 15% to 20% of the 50 million tonnes of e-waste created every year are recycled (cleanaway.com.au)

 

… only 20% of e-waste is collected and recycled while the fate of the other 80% is unknown, but very likely dumped, illegally traded or recycled under uncontrolled conditions (cleanaway.com.au)

 

Specific E-Waste Products & Items

In 2009, US citizens recycled just 25% of their used TVs and computers, while as little as 8% of mobile phones were recycled (bbc.com)

 

What The Maximum Amount Of E-Waste That Could Be Recycled?

It might be around 90 to 95% of total e-waste components that can be recycled.

 

From cleanaway.com.au:

… when handled correctly, at least 90% to 95% of e-waste components can be recycled, greatly reducing the environmental impact of landfill dumping, sourcing new materials, pollution and contamination.

 

What Is The Economic Potential Of Recycling & Recovering Materials From E-Waste?

The economic potential of recycling e-waste and recovering metals from e-waste could be in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.

 

All Materials In E-Waste

From cleanaway.com.au:

Every year, [e waste produced globally contains] up to US$ 65 billion worth of raw materials like gold, silver and platinum.

… when handled correctly, at least 90% to 95% of e-waste components can be recycled, greatly reducing the environmental impact of landfill dumping, sourcing new materials, pollution and contamination.

 

Metals In E-Waste

The estimated recoverable metal value from e-waste is about US$370 million, including US$150 million from discarded printed circuit boards alone (cleanaway.com.au)

 

Also from cleanaway.com.au:

A reasonable portion of the world’s base metals like gold and silver for example go into electronic devices and items

Printed circuit boards may be one example of an item that has value to recycle, and metals can be recovered from

 

How & Where To Recycle E Waste (How To Find Out)

It differs between countries, States and cities.

You can do an online search for ‘How to dispose of/recycle e-waste in [insert city or town name]’

Details such as waste organisation names, how and where to drop of e-waste, and relevant charges and fees should be available.

Some councils might offer e-waste recycling programs, and some private companies or organisations offer them too.

Some e-waste programs are free, whilst some charge money.

 

Some information on current recycling programs in some countries or cities are:

 

United States

… visit the CalRecycle’s Directory of the companies that collect, reuse and recycle electronic wastes in [California] (calrecycle.ca.gov, and dtsc.ca.gov)

 

Australia

[For] small amounts of e-waste, free drop off sites by TechCollect are located around the country (cleanaway.com.au)

 

For disposal, you must take it to an e-waste recycler/specified e-waste drop-off locations.

Some recyclers do it free of charge, whilst others charge a fee.

– marion.sa.gov.au

 

Regulations On E-Waste Disposal In Different Countries & States

The legal requirements for the disposal of e-waste differs between different geographic areas, so, it’s best to search for local requirements in a particular city or town.

Some countries for example ban certain types of e-waste from going to landfill, or specific that certain types of e-waste have to be recycled.

Information on some specific countries and States includes …

 

United States

California for example has the Electronic Waste Recycling Act which lists certain e waste items to be recycled.

E-wastes listed in the Act must be taken to a designated handler or recycler.

– calrecycle.ca.gov, and dtsc.ca.gov

 

Currently under the Act, the following items are covered (but this list may be updated in the future – do not take this list as final):

Cathode ray tube containing devices (CRT devices)

Cathode ray tubes (CRTs)

Computer monitors containing cathode ray tubes

Laptop computers with liquid crystal display (LCD)

LCD containing desktop monitors

Televisions containing cathode ray tubes

Televisions containing liquid crystal display (LCD) screens

Plasma televisions

Portable DVD players with LCD screens

– dtsc.ca.gov

 

The way recycling of covered electronic devices is funded right now in California is:

The purchaser of a CED pays a fee at the time of purchase, which is used to pay collectors and recyclers of CEDs that are no longer wanted

– dtsc.ca.gov

 

CalRecycle are currently making suggestions to add most devices that require batteries or a power cord to the list of items covered under California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act (sacbee.com)

 

More details about the E Waste Recycling Act can be seen at dtsc.ca.gov

 

EPA also discusses how people can recycle their e waste, or batteries found in their electronics at epa.gov

 

Australia

[In some parts of Australia], all e-waste has been banned from landfill since 2013 so it cannot be put in your waste bin at home (marion.sa.gov.au)

 

To prevent e-waste from going to landfill, the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme was implemented under Australia’s Product Stewardship Act 2011.

The scheme provides Australian households and small businesses with access to industry-funded collection and recycling services for televisions and computers.

– cleanaway.com.au

 

How To Manage E-Waste Better 

Potential options might include but aren’t limited to:

– E-waste recycling programs

– In the future, we might consider the role and impact Artificial Intelligence technology and systems can play in more sustainably managing e waste

– Designing e-waste to make it easier to recycle or recover metals and materials from (such as have detachable parts that can be repaired or replaced or recycled, instead of having to replace an entire electronic unit or item)

– Labelling of electronic items by manufacturers about whether they possess potentially hazardous material or not, and how to dispose of them.

– Reducing the consumption rate of electronic products (i.e. keeping products longer)

– Use recyclable batteries in electronic products

– Have easily accessible recycling and waste disposal programs available for e waste like batteries

 

Investment by governments can help too …

Some places in Australia are investing in e-waste disposal, according to cleanaway.com.au:

Ahead of an e-waste-to-landfill ban that takes effect on 1 July 2019, the Victorian Government recently announced a $16.5 million investment to upgrade more than 130 e-waste collection and storage sites across Victoria.

This is part of their efforts to reform e-waste management laws, including upgrades that will ensure 98% of Victorians are able to find at least one e-waste disposal point within a 20-minute drive.

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.marion.sa.gov.au/services-we-offer/waste-and-recycling/electronic-waste-e-waste

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste

3. https://www.cleanaway.com.au/about-us/sustainable-future/e-waste-problem/

4. https://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/article212142999.html 

5. https://www2.calrecycle.ca.gov/Electronics/eRecycle 

6. https://www.dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/EWaste/ 

7. https://www.dtsc.ca.gov/hazardouswaste/EWaste/MoreInfo.cfm#Electronic_Waste_Recycling_Act 

8. https://www.epa.gov/recycle/electronics-donation-and-recycling

9. https://www.createdigital.org.au/urban-mining-recycle-e-waste-profit/

10. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140314-the-worlds-scarcest-material

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