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An intro to e-waste: Why it’s a problem

E-waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams on the planet. Already, we produce something like 50 million tonnes of it each year. And that number’s only set to increase as electronics become more accessible worldwide.

So, what is e-waste?

E-waste, or electronic waste, encompasses electrical and electronic equipment that’s outdated, unwanted, or broken. That means everything from smartphones to end-of-life refrigerators. Basically, anything that runs on electricity that you’ve decided to get rid of. Globally, we only recycle 10% of our e-waste, a number that’s as shocking as it is depressing. As for the 90% we don’t recycle, it ends up getting landfilled, incinerated, or illegally traded.

What makes e-waste so bad?

E-waste contains a laundry list of chemicals that are harmful to people and the environment, like: mercury, lead, beryllium, brominated flame retardants, and cadmium, i.e. stuff that sounds as bad as it is. When electronics are mishandled during disposal, these chemicals end up in our soil, water, and air.

To make matters worse, electronic waste is sometimes illegally exported to countries that don’t have laws on handling and disposing of it. Once there, it’s dumped. Sometimes, valuable materials are recovered, but often in unsafe working conditions.

What can we do?

Thankfully, lots. By being more mindful about where your e-waste ends up, you can limit how much you produce and the impact it has on the environment.

Reduce: The easiest way to solve the e-waste crisis is to produce less e-waste. I know, easier said than done. Companies are constantly rolling out new products—like Apple, for instance, with its iPhone. Newer products look and function better than their predecessors, but novelty comes at a price. Instead of buying that flashy new gadget, stick to what you’ve got. Also, by taking care of your electronics you can ensure that they last longer. When you don’t have to replace them as often, you end up saving money.

Reuse: Instead of tossing out that old television set or gaming console, consider regifting, selling, or donating it. You could also hold on to it. Who knows, it might end up being worth something someday.  Look at the Original Apple 1. It’s sold at auction for upwards of $905,000.

Repair: People often throw out and replace broken electronics instead of getting them repaired. True, repairs can be expensive, but for those who aren’t afraid of a DIY project, it’s a cheap fix. Online resources like iFixit, a website that boasts free repair guides for everything, provide reliable information that’ll help you get your tech back in working order. Always remember to be safe, though.

Recycle: As a last resort, you can always recycle your e-waste—just make sure you’re doing it correctly! Many communities have e-waste recycling events and drop-off depots that handle these materials. If your city is currently a member of our network, download the Recycle Coach app to find out how. Organizations like TerraCycle accept e-waste in the U.S. and Canada. So do some manufactures and retailers, like Apple and Best Buy.


  1. Eli Richardson

    May 31, 2021 at 9:27 am

    I’m glad you talked about e-waste and how little it’s recycled worldwide! In my opinion, we need to step up our recycling game and start spreading awareness of its importance. If I were to run a company, I’d make sure to implement recycling programs and waste management processes. I appreciate your information on reducing our e-waste environmental impact.

  2. Scot

    June 25, 2021 at 10:28 am

    Great article, keep posting. It is important to spread awareness among people about e waste.

  3. Mae

    July 19, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    Great content! I really really hate seeing waste everywhere that is why our business at Hackney Rubbish Removals have been born to combat waste. Because I have a sense of urgency to create a better environment for the next generation.

  4. Waste Removal

    August 3, 2021 at 11:57 am

    This 4rs are very useful considering there are a lot of e-wastes in the world. I hope we get the chance to probably get rid of them someday.

  5. Neeta Anand Dabke

    September 18, 2021 at 8:26 am

    very true about E waste …..each and every person should think about the main 4 R’s, which will definitely help in reducing it.
    hope that every body follows it so that our future generations will have good environment

  6. Vincent

    October 11, 2022 at 11:46 am

    I totally agree! Everyone should fix their broken or damaged devices, but very little people actually do. Also, not very many people think about the 4 main R’s, but they should!

  7. cecelia babcock

    October 18, 2022 at 5:31 pm

    people should repair their devices

  8. Albert John Rogers

    November 8, 2022 at 9:54 am

    Having been born in Scotland and spent some time in Ireland, I am very aware that the world-wide problem of Fossil Fuel Waste can hardly be addressed even in places in the tropics.
    Worse, when storms or mere electronic decay end the life of solar PV panels, we get vast amounts of E-waste.
    Virginia in 2012 got 40% of its electric energy with NO gaseous emissions, from four reactors with a total of about 100 tons of not-really-spent nuclear fuel rods. The same amount of energy last year was only about 30%.
    By the way, the radioactivity even of that small amount of waste is 400 times as powerful, fresh out of the reactor, as it is five years later. It has never harmed the teams of people who deal with it at its worst.

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