What is e-Waste?

What happens when your television, laptop, fax machine or other common electronic products reach the end of their useful life? For many people, it simply means tossing these items in the trash and buying new – and this leads to one of the fastest growing areas of waste in our country: e-waste.

Advancements in Technology Can Contribute to Growing Problem of e-Waste

Technology is a rapidly growing industry and as each manufacturer improves their device or releases a faster, more powerful computer, many people and business owners are quick to throw out their older electronics simply to upgrade to the latest and greatest technology available.

Most electronics could be refurbished, reused in another capacity or otherwise recycled, rather than just tossed in the trash. The growing green movement has led many environmentally conscious people to make an effort to use less paper and recycle whenever possible. However, until more people become aware of e-Waste, our increasing reliance on electronics in order to reduce paper is simply replacing one problem with another.

Environmental and Health Concerns of e-Waste

E-waste is often more dangerous than people realize. Consider cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which are found in many televisions: CRTs contain lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants. A cellular phone contains anywhere from 500 to 1,000 different components and many of these components are also known to contain toxic heavy metals and a variety of dangerous or hazardous chemicals.

When we drop these electronics off at the landfill, the materials can poison our water supply and soil, which then leads to health problems for people and animals in the area. Much of the world’s e-waste is being illegally exported to Asia and Africa, causing major problems in the area. Here are some of the chemicals found in e-waste and their effects:

Brominated flame retardants: These do not decompose easily in the environment, and long term exposure to brominated flame retardants can cause impaired memory function and learning. Pregnant women exposed to brominated flame retardants have been shown to give birth to babies with behavioral problems as it interferes with estrogen and thyroid functioning.

Lead: Found in most computer monitors and televisions, lead exposure leads to intellectual impairment in children and serious damages to human reproductive systems, the nervous system and blood.

Cadmium: Found in laptop rechargeable batteries and other electronic device rechargeable batteries, this can cause damage to kidneys and bones.

Mercury: Found in flat screen monitors and televisions, this damages the central nervous system and brain in people of all ages, but particularly during the early years of development.

Hexavalentchromium Compounds: A known carcinogen, these are used in the creation of metal housings, which are typical of many electronic products.

Minimizing e-Waste

Instead of tossing your used or outdated electronics in the trash, consider making an electronics donation to a charitable organization that can put them to good use and prolong their life span:

eBay’s Rethink Initiative connects people with businesses that refurbish computers.
EcoSquid helps consumers identify options for recycling, donating, or selling their used electronics.
Electronic Industries Alliance’s Consumer Education Initiative helps you find donation programs and recycling options for electronics products in each state.
Techsoup helps people find locations to donate their electronics or to find companies that refurbish electronics.

Consider supporting manufacturers who offer a voluntary take back program; but do some additional research to ensure the company also has a policy against exporting the e-waste to other countries before you participate.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has also published a comprehensive report regarding Electronics Reuse and Recycling, which can help you discover additional methods for reducing your e-waste and responsible methods for disposing of your used electronics.

Don’t have an electronic to recycle just yet? You can still help by minimizing waste associated with electronic use. For example, find a savings account that allows for e-statements. This vastly minimizes the paper waste associated with direct mail bills and statements sent to your home. Also, when making online payments, pay directly with your checking account online, rather than sending checks or money orders.

Remember that e-waste is a problem that we can resolve by simply being more aware of how we use and dispose of our electronics.

Stock photo courtesy of Big Stock Photo


Benny Rees
Benny R6 years ago

Interesting article - perhaps there should be a levy charged on every item of consumer electronics (perhaps based on the item's selling price), which would be used to fund establishing convenient recycling points for e-waste. Convenience is a key for modern consumers.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

where can you take these things?

carolina morales
Carolina Morales6 years ago

i need to donate them or seel them i don't want to contribute to the pollution !! thankyou for this article

Robert Miles
Robert Miles7 years ago

When one of my computers stopped working working last year, I found a way to remove all of my files before donating it: Just remove the hard drive, where most of them are stored. Also, make sure that you do not leave any CDs or DVDs on the drives for them, unless you know that none of your private files are on them.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia7 years ago

thanks for the information, i def want to get into this. i just hope i can clean out all my personal files off my computer before donating it once it breaks! my old cell phones are used as toys for my mom's home daycare or for my little man. we remove the battery though,

Elaine A.
Past Member 7 years ago

Well besides the fact that the picture shows a compiling of old, and I would assume, the dead bodies of broken computers. I also believe that junk mail in your in box is another form of e-waste!

Amanda M.
Amanda M7 years ago

June T, we're the same way! Why replace something when it still works just fine?

If more people got away from this "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality and relearned "Waste not, want not!" the world would be a cleaner and much better place!

We only replace electronic items when they wear out, and we're also VERY picky about what forms of tech we accept-if we have a genuine need for it, then we'll consider getting it. If we don't NEED it, it doesn't come into our house.

I've got nothing against the "electronic wave," but I do think there's a huge difference between technology that genuinely helps us and technology that's taking over our lives for the worse. Sadly, we're seeing far more of the latter than I like.

KS Goh
KS Goh7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy7 years ago

how we use and dispose? I don't think so. Lets start with the companies who provide them and come out with new models every 6 months. How about reuse.... maybe plug in phone modules that give you the new stuff in the old box... OK

Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy7 years ago

how we use and dispose? I don't think so. Lets start with the companies who provide them and come out with new models every 6 months. How about reuse.... maybe plug in phone modules that give you the new stuff in the old box... OK