The Scope of the Problem
Electronic waste (e-waste) or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) accounts for over 40 million metric tons (tonnes) of waste around the world annually including 12.8 million tonnes of small equipment (e.g. vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, etc.), 6.3 million tonnes of teleivsion and computer monitors, 1.0 million tonnes of lamps, and 3.0 million tonnes of communication equipment (e.g. smartphones). E-waste is responsible for 70% of heavy metals, 40% of lead, and up to 30% of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) that end up in landfills.
This situation is not acceptable, much less sustainable. What makes electronic waste so complicated is the many different sizes, shapes, forms, and compositions of that waste and the fact that recycling does not often proceed in the responsible and safe manner to which we associate the word ‘recycling’. A great deal of electronic waste ends up in informal economies, recycled by workers who have improper training in the handling of that waste and inadequate resources to protect themselves and the environment during processing of e-waste. There is a LOT of work left to do to fully understand, manage, and redirect electronic waste to a fate which reduces its ultimate impact on our world and improves the sustainability of the continued global proliferation of electronics.
Below, click on an image to learn more about different forms of e-waste and their impacts on the environment and public health.