Electronic waste is an underestimated environmental problem. Every day a vast number of electronic and electronic devices end up as waste; some of them ready for scrap, others just obsolete. All this is gradually mounting up to a serious environmental problem, which has so far failed to attract the public interest.
What is e-waste?
E-waste is a term used to cover almost all types of electrical and electronic equipment that has or could enter the waste stream. Although e-waste is a general term, it can be often considered to cover TV’s, computers, mobile phones, white goods (fridges, washing machines, dryers etc.), home entertainment and stereo systems, toys, toasters, kettles – almost any household or business item with circuitry or electrical components with power or battery supply.
E-waste is growing exponentially simply because the market in which these products are produced is also growing rapidly as many parts of the world cross the so called ‘digital divide’. For example, between 2000 and 2005, the Organisation of Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) notes a 22% growth in Information Communication Technology (ICT) in China1. Furthermore, China was the 6th largest ICT market in 2006, after the US, Japan, Germany, UK and France.2 This is astounding when one considers that just ten years ago, under 1% of China’s population owned a computer3. Computers are only one part of the e-waste stream though, as we see that in the EU in 2005, fridges and other cooling and freezing appliances, combined with large household appliances, accounted for 44% of total e-waste, according to UNU’s Study supporting the 2008 Review of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.4 Rapid product innovations and replacement, especially in ICT and office equipment, combined with the migration from analogue to digital technologies and to flat-screen TVs and monitors, for example, are fuelling the increase. Economies of scale have given way to lower prices for many electrical goods, which has increased global demand for many products that eventually end up as e-waste.
Because so much of the planet’s e-waste is unaccounted for, it is difficult to know exactly how much e-waste there is. Moreover the types of e-waste included in government-initiated analyses and collection programs is different across the world: the EU has 10 distinct product categories, whereas in Northern America it is typically limited to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products and televisions, and in Japan to 4 product categories including TVs, air conditioners, refrigerators, and washing machines. Nevertheless reasonable estimates are in the order of 40 million tons p.a., which is enough to fill a line of dump-trucks stretching half way around the globe. A recent review of European legislation on e-waste, known as the “Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE)” Directive (mentioned earlier), highlights that in Europe alone in 2005, there was between 8.3 and 9.1 million tons of e-waste, tendency rising. In Australia, with an average of 22 electrical items per household, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that in the next 2 years, most of the 9 million computers, 5 million printers and 2 million scanners in Australian homes will be replaced9. In the US, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that the US generated 1.9 to 2.2 million tons of e-waste in 2005, with only 12.5% collected for recycling
StEP = Solve the E-waste Problem
As personal computers have become common in most homes, there is a growing concern about the environmental impact of old computers, computer parts and other electronic products. When you are ready to dispose of your old PC and computer-related devices, just visit DELL RECYCLING
Also visit http://www.step-initiative.org/index.php for more information on how to recycle other electronic devices.
In summary, we can see that e-waste is a global concern because of the nature of production and disposal of waste in a globalized world. We can also see that although it is difficult to know exactly how much e-waste there is, we do know that large amounts end up in places where processing occurs at a very rudimentary level. This raises concerns about resource efficiency and also the immediate concerns of the dangers to humans and the environment. There is a long and sometimes complicated chain of events in the e-waste problem, beginning from an idea that someone has for a new product and then its production, ending in its purchase and eventual disposal by the end user. By engaging with various stakeholders and relevant scientific wisdom within this chain of events, we are on the way to Solve the E-waste Problem (StEP).