Why E-Waste is Bad for the Environment – and What Can be Done About It

e-waste and the environment

Given a list of places in the community that people would like to hang out at – theaters, shopping malls, local arenas – there’s one place that probably won’t turn up on anybody’s list, and that’s the community landfill.

Unless you think you lost something precious and figure it’s worth your time driving over there to hunt for it, most of us assume our landfills are dirty, foul-smelling places that we’re eager to avoid.

The truth is, if residents actually understood just how hazardous and environmentally dangerous our landfills can become, they wouldn’t be avoiding them. They would be demanding changes.

Community landfills are becoming more environmentally hazardous every year, contaminated by chemicals that pose serious dangers to the nearby soil, water and air. And one of the contributing factors is the rapid pace of advances in modern technology.

The two might not seem linked, but the fact that manufacturers of highly popular electronics devices are constantly rolling new, updated models is contributing to that toxic environment.

That’s because as millions of consumers quickly purchase those new models and discard the older ones, many are tossing out their used electronics, sending them en masse to landfills.

And that’s already been documented as an environmental ticking time bomb.

It’s also a key reason why there’s been such a strong push around the world in recent years to promote the recycling of used electronics, which allows the parts within them to be removed and then used to make new products.
And it’s also the safest way to dispose of e-waste.


What Are the Environmental Hazards Posed by E-Waste?


It would be impossible to understate the risks posed by e-waste.

Because of advances in technology, more people than ever own multiple electronic devices – and there are actually more smartphones than there are people on the planet.

As a result, e-waste has become the world’s fastest-growing trash stream.

The growth of e-waste worldwide is pretty staggering. The United Nations University reports that in 2016, the yearly accumulation of e-waste reached 49.3 million tons. More and more people are throwing away old electronics on a regular basis.

The university, a think tank for the United Nations, is predicting it will get even worse, with the total amount rising to 57 million tons by 2021.


Why is this a problem?


Electronics are made using a lot of chemicals – including poisonous ones. Liquid-crystal display screens contain mercury, cathode-ray tubes have lead, and there’s cadmium in batteries and semiconductors. Dumping e-waste into a landfill means those chemicals can leach into the soil and water.

When e-waste isn’t sent to landfills, in some countries they’re sent to incinerators instead, where burning them releases those toxins into the air, causing continued pollution.

Police in Thailand recently raided a junkyard on the outskirts of Bangkok, where officers from the Royal Thai Police found vast piles of discarded electrical wires, circuit boards and computers being handled by workers who were being exposed to toxic fumes and dust.

As a result, E-waste is now considered a rapidly growing problem across the globe. It’s been well documented that the toxic substances within these devices can have an adverse impact on human health, on our wildlife, and on the environment if they’re not handled properly.


How Much E-Waste Is Out There?


In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report, “Electronics Waste Management in the United States,” which indicated that 438 million new electronic products had been sold, and nearly 3 million electronics had reached the end of their life cycle, but only 25 percent of that amount was being collected for recycling.

Today, nearly a decade later, the number of devices being made and reaching the end of their life cycle, has skyrocketed. Unfortunately, the percentage of people recycling them hasn’t.

By 2013, revenue from consumer electronics like smartphones, computers, and game consoles had soared to $209.6 billion, and there were 130 million smartphones sold in 2013, 116 million tablet computers, and 26 million laptops.

The number of “must have” electronic devices keeps rising annually.

Dumping all this e-waste into landfills or burning them at incinerators can expose both people and wildlife to hazardous substances. E-waste has been connected to numerous health risks from the lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls inside them, or from the inhalation of toxic fumes.

That’s especially true for children, who remain the most vulnerable to these health risks.

We know their central nervous, immune, reproductive and digestive system are still developing, so exposure to toxic substances is extremely dangerous.

Children can be exposed through dump sites near their homes, schools and local playgrounds. There have been numerous international initiatives aimed at addressing global e-waste management and the issues related to environmental pollution from e-waste.

The World Health Organization is now trying to identify the potential health risks of e-waste exposure, with support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

WHO also launched the E-Waste and Child Health Initiative to find ways to protect children and their families from the harmful health effects of e-waste.


How Can Recycling Solve the Problem?


There’s another important aspect of discarding e-waste and putting it in landfills: it’s a terrible waste of the valuable items within them, including gold, silver, copper, platinum, and palladium. Smartphones, for example, often contain plenty of gold.

In addition to being environmentally hazardous, tossing out used electronics in the trash is a waste of precious parts that can be successfully recycled. E-waste also has rare earth elements like lanthanum, neodymium, and yttrium, which can also be used to make new products. That helps lowers costs for manufacturers.

That’s another key reason why there’s such a strong push for expanding recycling efforts in developed and developing countries. Even a nation like India, which has some of the world’s most advanced high-tech software and hardware developing facilities, has very primitive recycling programs and is badly in need of more.

And it’s why more and more nations are starting to develop recycling programs specifically geared at e-waste management: to help control the environment and health concerns this challenge has raised.

But there’s still a strong need to get the message out about how important e-waste recycling is. A global e-waste management market is now starting to grow and expand, often with the support of governments that have recognized the environmental problems associated with e-waste and taken strong initiatives to invest in e-waste management and recycling.




Environmentalists, government agencies and health care advocates have all been working diligently to raise awareness about the risks to the Earth’s resources from the growing amount of e-waste.

What’s needed is a continued investment in a proven solution to e-waste: recycling, which remains the most effective way to keep e-waste from damaging our environment and our health.

It’s a message we all need to keep repeating, and it’s also important for everyone to take their unwanted electronics to a proven recycling firm like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation.

Great Lakes Electronics Corporation has a great reputation for being trusted experts in the recycling and management of waste electronics and other metals.

Great Lakes Electronics Corporation serves customers both large and small, from private customers to large corporations. Contact them today at 888-392-7831 to request a quote.