Electronic waste

Electronic Waste (E-Waste)


E-waste describes all elements that are related to electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) as well as the EEE parts that have been used and discarded as waste by its users and owners without the aim of reuse. Notably, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and related components remains as a fast-growing and complex stream of wastes generated from different products.  According to Kiddee, Naidu, and Wong (2013), e-waste has emerged as a fastest-growing pollution across the globe, which is associated with the presence of various toxic substances that continue to contaminate the environment, thus threatening human health and the environment. The major elements that comprise of e-waste are old, end-of-life electronic appliances, including MP3 players, mobile phones, freezers, refrigerators, DVD players, televisions, laptops, and computers among others. With fast changing technologies and continuous consumer demand for the more devices, the increase in e-waste is also expected to increase.  However, by reducing the amount of electronics and appliances that form part of the waste stream and adopting other methods of recycling WEE and accessories, the e-waste could decline. The purpose of this report is to explain the facts, problems and solutions for e- waste. The report first discusses the problems that are causing E-waste to increase, and ways that can be used to minimize or decrease the problem.

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E-waste Facts

Electronic waste encompasses a multitude of elements that contain toxic substances which could have detrimental effects on the environment and human health if not properly handled. E-wastes have been classified into three major classes: (a) Large Household Appliances, (b) Consumer Equipment, and (c) information technology (IT) and Telecom. Notably, washing and refrigerator machine consists of large household appliances; television represents Consumer Equipment, while personal computers are part of IT and Telecom. According to Pinto (2008), WEE accounts for more than 90% of e-wastes comprised of 42% (large household appliances), 33.9% (information and communication equipment technology equipment, and 13.7% (consumer electronics). In addition, iron and steel comprises of 50% of all the WEE, while plastics comprise of 21%, while non-ferrous metals and other constituents comprise of 13% (Pinto, 2008).

The amount of global e-waste -discarded electronic equipment- has reached 41.8 million metric tons (Mt).in 2014, according to a new United Nations University report (Baldé, Wang, Kuehr, & Huisman, 2015). It was further estimated that by 2015, the amount of e-waste is to increase to 50. The e-waste is encompassed of 1.0 Mt of lamps, 3.0 Mt of small IT, 6.3 Mt of screens, 12.8 Mt of small equipment, 11.8 Mt of large equipment and 7.0 Mt of freezing and cooling equipment (Baldé et al., 2015). Out of the 41.1 Mt of e-waste disposed, only 13% of it is properly discarded and recycled.  In the United States (U.S), more than 100 million cell phones are trashed every year, constituting to e-wastes (Levin, 2016). In addition, more than 112,000 computers and laptops are discarded daily in the U.S, constituting to more than 41.1 million laptop and desktop computers (Levin, 2016).  The figure below provides a summary of e-waste generation by region

In the figure, Asia is the largest contributor of e-waste (16 Mt) followed by Americas (11.7 Mt), Europe (11.6 Mt), while Africa contributes about 3 Mt, and Oceania 1 Mt of e-waste.  Asian, U.S, and Europe contribute more e-waste combined because of computerization, industrialization, and increased use of electronics than Africa and Oceania.

From figure 2, e-waste has increased from 2010 to 2016 and s projected to increase to 50 Mt in 2018. Therefore, e-waste continues to increase and this has been contributed to human mentality, increase in the global population, and increased consumption and disposal of electronics and appliances without properly recycling them.

The Problems Causing E-Waste to Increase

The increase of e-waste around the world has been a result of electronic disposal and the lack of effective recycling mechanisms. According to Global Report, e-waste is expected to grow by 33% by 2017 (Lewis, 2015). This will be contributed to the increased use of electronic products, electrical and electronic equipment by consumers across the globe. The 33% increase in e-waste is expected to be an equivalent of 72 million tons. Asia leads in the production and manufacturing of EEE, with China being the leader (12.2 million tons), then the U.S with 11 million tons. In 2010, the U.S generated 258.2 million units of used TVs, monitors, computers, and cellphones for recycling, although 114.4 million were exported (Lewis, 2015). Figure 3 below is an illustration of piled-up old computers and accessories.

Another reason associated with the increased e-waste is the growth of the population. Everybody is buying computers, laptops, and phones, which are later disposed of and new other devices purchased. Thus, as the population increases, the number of disposed of wastes is also expected to increase, unless proper waste management practices are implemented (Shah & Batool, 2015). The middle class is always purchasing new EEE products and accessories which are poorly disposed of without proper recycling methods. For instance, in 2014 the population was 7.1 billion while the e-waste generated was 41.8 Mt, and this has increased to 7.4 billion people producing 45.7 Mt in 2016 (Baldé, et al., 2015). The population is projected to increase to reach 7.4 million, with 49.8 Mt of generated e-waste.

The human mentality has been associated with increased e-waste around the world. For instance, as new EEE products are manufactured, customers discard the old ones for the new ones. Electronics TakeBack Coalition (2014) noted that every year millions of computers and phones purchased around the world become obsolete, after they have been discarded, they leave behind hazardous wastes.

Lack of strong policies, regulations, and laws for e-waste management and recycling has resulted to the increase of the problem.  For instance, although there exist some state-level e-waste laws in the U.S, there are no federal mandates in North America, and in the U.S there are only 65% of the U.S. population is covered by a state e-waste recycling law in 2013 (Electronics TakeBack Coalition 2014). While in Canada, only 15 provinces have been covered with e-waste laws, which is only 94% of the Population. In Asia and Africa, the e-waste laws are not strong and this has limited the manner in which they are discarded. In Latin America, only 6 out of 21 have implemented e-waste regulations. Therefore, the absence of a strong legal framework and regulations could have resulted to the continued increase in e-waste in the world.

Ways to Decrease or Stop the Problem.

In order to minimize e-waste, a number of approaches have been proposed. First, different stakeholders and government agencies can promote implementation and capacity building. For instance, the informal recycling sector can be formalized to attract more proper disposal and recycling. In addition, legislation is required to enhance the disposal, collection, and recycling of EEE and accessories.

Second, awareness building is needed with regard to the existence and dangers of e-waste. According to Pinto (2008), currently, awareness of dangers associated with e-waste is extremely low in most developing countries. As such, the citizenry is required in promoting e-waste management whereby old electronics and appliances can be donated for reuse. Consumers can also be educated on by buying electronic products, by choosing those which have fewer toxic constituents, use minimal packaging, are energy efficient, and use recycled content. When selling EEE and appliances, consumer awareness via public awareness campaigns is needed to promote proper disposal and recycling.

Third, technical intervention, which involves design and engineering intervention can be used to reduce the impact and prevalence of e-waste. For instance, manufacturers have an extended responsibility to minimize wastes. In addition, a regulation can be implemented that can ensure that the producer has the responsibility to collect e-waste produced during EE manufacturing and channelizing it for proper disposal and recycling (Chaurasia, 2014). In addition, producers can also make awareness via advertisements, publications, booklets, information, posters, and other approaches to communicating with people. In addition, producers can provide authorized EEE collection centers to facilitate the effective return of the wastes (Chaurasia, 2014).

Fourth, laws and regulations must be developed to set a framework for the disposal and recycling of e-waste. Pinto (2008) pointed out that take-back policy and use of regulations can also reduce e-wastes. For instance, all countries and different stakeholders can come together and develop regulations and laws which enhance proper disposal.


The report indicates that e-waste is expected to increase from the current amount to 50Mt by 2018 if not properly checked. The primary causes of the problem include lack of proper laws and regulations, increased population, the human mentality, and the continued use of EEE products and appliances without properly disposing and recycling them. The problem can be solved via awareness creation to the public by EEE producers and related bodies on existence and the possible dangers of e-waste to humans and the environment. Also, informal recycling should be formalized to promote proper disposal and recycling of e-waste. Legislations are required to ensure that producers have a responsibility for the e-wastes.

References List

Baldé, C.P., Wang, F., Kuehr, R., Huisman, J. (2015), The global e-waste monitor – 2014, United Nations University, IAS – SCYCLE, Bonn, Germany.

Chaurasia, P. K. (2014) E-Waste Management Approaches in India, International Journal of Engineering Trends and Technology (IJETT), vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 21-24.

Electronics TakeBack Coalition (2014) Facts and Figures on E-Waste and Recycling. [Online] Available at: <http://www.electronicstakeback.com/wp-content/uploads/Facts_and_Figures_on_EWaste_and_Recycling.pdf> (Accessed 1 Dec. 2016).

Kiddee, P., Naidu, R., & Wong, M. H.  (2013) Electronic waste management approaches: An overview. Waste Management, vol. 33, pp. 1237-1250.

Levin, H. (2016) Electronic Waste (E-Waste) Recycling and Disposal – Facts, Statistics & Solutions. [Online] Available at: <http://www.moneycrashers.com/electronic-e-waste-recycling-disposal-facts/> (Accessed 1 Dec. 2016).

Kiddee, P., Naidu, R., & Wong, M. H.  (2013) Electronic waste management approaches: An overview. Waste Management, vol. 33, pp. 1237-1250.

Lewis, T. (2015). World’s E-Waste to Grow 33% by 2017, Says Global Report. Live Science. [Online] Available at: < http://www.livescience.com/41967-world-e-waste-to-grow-33-percent-2017.html> (Accessed 1 Dec. 2016).

Pinto, V. N. (2008). E-waste hazard: The impending challenge. Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, vol. 12, no.2, pp. 65–70.

Shah, M. A., & Batool, R. (2015) An Overview of Electronic Waste Management, Practices and Impending Challenges. International Journal of Computer Applications, vol. 125, no. 2, pp. 33-38.

TCO Development. (2016). E-Waste- The Escalation of Global Crisis. [Online] Available at: < http://tcodevelopment.com/news/global-e-waste-reaches-record-high-says-new-un-report/> (Accessed 1 Dec. 2016).

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