What is e-waste? And how do we dispose of it?
The ongoing challenge of how best to dispose of used and unwanted electronics isn’t a new one and dates back at least to the 1970s.
But a lot has changed since then, particularly the number of electronics being discarded today compared to the mid-70s.
And we also have something else today: a term for this issue. After several terms got suggested, including “Digital rubbish,” a consensus formed around the simple term “e-waste.”
So What is E-waste?
More importantly, what have we learned over the years about how best to cope with the environmental challenges that it poses?
One thing we know today is that the definition of e-waste is likely to keep expanding. In an era of rapid technological advancement, more and more highly sophisticated electronic goods are being invented and manufactured – just think of the concept of the “Smart home” and how many electronic devices can now do everything from offer security to turning lights on and off, to having fresh coffee ready before we wake up.
We also know something else: a skyrocketing amount of e-waste is being written off by owners as “junk.” There’s no greater example of that than computers, laptops and smartphones.
New models arrive even as the current one appears to be working just fine – but the new version always provides additional features that make it seem too enticing to resist.
So in answer to the question, “What is e-waste?” a good response today might be, “It depends.”
Because as the technology innovators continue to create electric devices designed to make our lives easier and more convenient in every conceivable way, we seem all too susceptible to quickly pitching the devices we already have, no matter how satisfied we’ve been with them up until now.
And what’s happening to them all?
How is E-waste Defined Today?
E-waste, quite simply, means electronic waste, or any electrical or electronic equipment that’s been discarded. It could be because the device no longer works or is broken, or it could be because the consumer has purchased a newer version that makes the older one seem outdated or inferior.
And the List of Common E-waste Items Keeps Getting Longer:
1. It could refer to home appliances:
- Air conditioners
- Electric cookers
2. And communications and information technology devices:
- Circuit boards
- Hard discs
3. And home entertainment devices:
- Blu Ray Players
- Video games
- Xbox Players, etc
- And office equipment:
- Fax machines
4. And electronic utilities like:
- Sporting equipment
Today, though, a growing amount of e-waste is not considered to be products that have stopped working or become obsolete.
Technological advances are coming at us at such a dizzying speed that a lot of electronic devices that still work fine are the ones considered “obsolete.”
Think of the many VCR players that got replaced when the DVD player hit the market, and now the DVD players getting replaced by Blu-ray players. If a product is powered electronically and someone thinks they can create a better version, that contributes to e-waste.
And we care about this because for years now, so-called “obsolete” electronic devices have been filling landfills across the globe. In the U.S. alone, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 60 million metric tons of e-waste ends up in landfills every year.
Most electronics contain some form of toxic materials, including beryllium, cadmium, mercury and lead, which pose serious environmental risks to our soil, water, air and wildlife.
Fortunately, there’s a proven solution. The recycling of e-waste serves a lot of useful purposes, including protecting human and environmental health by keeping those devices out of landfills, recovering the parts within the devices that still have value, and providing manufacturers with recycled metals that can be used to make new products.
Virtually all electronic waste contains some form of recyclable material, including plastic, glass and metals, which is why they may be considered “junk” or “obsolete” to consumers, but still serve an important purpose. It’s ironic, in some ways, that these devices are called “e-waste,” since they’re really not waste at all. But in far too many instances, they are being wasted.
Our biggest challenge isn’t finding a solution to the growing amount of e-waste – with recycling, we have a solution. The challenge is getting recycling rates, still stubbornly low, to increase.
How Did We Get to This Point?
In 1976, Congress first addressed the issue of hazardous waste disposal with the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which set standards for protecting human health and the natural environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal.
One of the goals of the law was ensuring the management of waste in an environmentally sound manner.
The next major step was the Basel Convention in March 1989, an international treaty designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations and prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed nations.
One thing that’s grown significantly since then has been the e-waste recycling industry, the most proven way of keeping e-waste out of landfills or from being burned in incinerators.
The recycling industry has been devoted to taking reusable parts from discarded electronic devices and recycling them for the benefit of local businesses and manufacturers.
As the amount of e-waste keeps rising, so has this industry, which today creates hundreds of thousands of jobs across the world by recycling the electronics we no longer want.
So much of what’s in e-waste still has value. Circuit boards contain valuable metals like silver, tin, gold, palladium, and copper.
Hard drives can be shredded and processed into aluminum ingots for use in the automotive industry.
In 1991, the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in Switzerland with the introduction of a system to collect refrigerators. Other electric and electronic devices got added to the system in later years.
A decade later, the European Union implemented a similar system called the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, to establish e-waste recycling requirements for member nations.
In the U.S., there are no federal laws governing e-waste, although 25 states have their own e-waste rules.
Is “e-waste” clearly defined?
The term “e-waste” usually applies to consumer and business electronic equipment that’s no longer wanted, but that contain material that render them hazardous when placed in landfills.
But we know that every year, the list of e-waste items gets longer – and longer. In January, when the Consumer Electronics Show opened in Las Vegas, there was a steady stream of new product announcements, like the one by Audio Technica, a Japanese company that unveiled two new wood-based, belt-drive turntables, the AT-LPW40TN, and AT-LPW30TK, created to deliver high-fidelity audio performances.
At the same show, TCL Communication debuted a brand new Alcatel smartphone with a Full View Display.
Other new devices on the market today include FXD, which can instantly diagnose car problems when your “Check Engine Light” comes on; the KeySmart Pro, an organizer providing a better way to organize and carry your keys; and HeatBuddy, an energy-efficient plug-in heater for any room in the house, that’s small and compact.
And new ideas keep coming. And each one likely means something else that we’ve relied on in the past will become “obsolete.”
Since we know consumers will keep buying new devices, it’s important to keep reinforcing that message that we need to recycle the older models, not throw them out.
There are serious environmental risks if we send our electronics to a landfill, whereas recycling provides huge benefits to our environment.
The solution is to turn those devices over to an experienced firm like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation, which has years of experience performing environmentally friendly recycling of electronic products.
The team at Great Lakes Electronics Corporation will disassemble these items into component parts, and the ones that still have value can be sold for reuse. Other parts are used for metals recovery. Everything within your devices gets recycled.
To learn more, contact Great Lakes Electronics Corporation at 888-392-7831 today.