What Is E-Waste? It’s Time to Address Our Electronic Waste Problem

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By Nicole Newton from musicMagpie on behalf of SLH.

The electronics industry is thriving, and with it comes the increase of e-waste. As each new gadget is launched, plans are already well underway for its next replacement. Tech goods like mobile phones, laptops and tablets are often thrown away before the end of their useful lives in favour of newer models. 

It’s purchasing and discarding behaviours like this that are contributing toward e-waste. But what exactly is e-waste and why is it a problem we need to address now?

What is e-waste?

E-waste is any electronic item that has been discarded, such as phones, laptops, monitors, TVs, printers and tablets. According to a UN report, the world generated 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electronic waste in 2019 and the number is steadily increasing. 

When disposed of improperly (like being thrown in a landfill), e-waste can be extremely harmful to both humans and the planet. E-waste contains a mixture of harmful toxins, the most common being cadmium, lead, lead oxide, antimony, nickel and mercury. 

These toxic elements can be particularly harmful to those living near landfill sites. This is because they can enter the body through skin exposure, ingestion or even inhalation and can cause a plethora of illnesses to those exposed, and in severe cases, even death.

And it’s not just those living close to landfills that can be affected. These toxins can go on to pollute water like rivers and lakes and release harmful gases into the atmosphere such as CO2. 

Why should we act now?

E-waste is already at an increased level and if no action is taken, the UN estimates that we could reach 120 million tons of e-waste by 2050 – that’s around 328 Empire State Buildings or just under 12,000 Eiffel Towers! 

A lot of electronic items can be harnessed for their unused metals and repurposed into other devices to give them a new lease of life, but not enough e-waste is recycled. At the moment, only 17.4% of e-waste is recorded as being properly collected, treated and recycled, meaning the other 82.6% is being improperly disposed of. 

A new study found that greenhouse gas emissions from e-waste increased by 53% between 2014 and 2020, with 580 metric tons of carbon dioxide produced in 2020 alone. If we don’t act now, the damage done to the planet could be irreparable.

What can we do to reduce e-waste?

It takes thousands of years for e-waste to decompose, which is why knowing how to dispose of it properly is so important. Reducing the rate at which we discard our devices and learning how to dispose of them properly is vital to slowing climate change and will make a positive impact on the environment.

Recycling old electronics instead of throwing them away is an easy way to reduce e-waste and do some good for the planet. For every ton of e-waste that is recycled, 1.44 tons of CO2 emissions are avoided. Recycling e-waste not only reduces waste and harmful toxins in landfills, but it also reduces the need to mine for new resources as the precious metals from old devices can be reused. 

In fact, if our old, small electrical products were recycled, we could save approximately 2.8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – that’s the equivalent of taking 1.3million cars off the road. 

And it’s not just recycling that will help the environment; choosing to buy less or opting for refurbished products can have an impact too. By making the conscious decision to buy less tech, you’re reducing the demand for new products which will lessen the amount of precious metals being mined.

Companies such as musicMagpie are leading the way for consumers to reduce their carbon footprint and e-waste, all by purchasing and reselling used electronics. In fact, in 2021, musicMagpie helped to save over 50,000 tonnes of CO2 by selling and buying second-hand electronics.

When you choose to buy refurbished products, you’ll promote a circular economy where products are given a second life. This extends a product’s useful life and keeps it in circulation for longer, further lessening the demand for new products.

If we all try to reuse, recycle, and lessen the amount of new tech purchases we make, together we can reduce e-waste and our carbon footprint for the better!