Every year, new upgrades on gadgets and electronic devices are introduced at prices more affordable for more consumers. Along with the surplus of technology and the cycle of improvements to existing product lines, today’s digital age is bringing about more e-waste than ever before, as the lifespans of mobile devices, laptops and other appliances become ever shorter.
As outdated versions of these devices end up in landfill, the hazardous materials that are used in them pose a serious threat to the environment and to our health.
E-waste, or Electronic waste, are made-up of discarded electronic products such as desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, TVs, DVDs, tablets, monitors, fax machines, printers, etc.
The materials included in the internal parts of these electronics are composed of hazardous chemicals and are known to be the most difficult to recycle. Toxic heavy metals elements such as beryllium, mercury, cadmium, lead, and flame retardants are used to produce desktop computers and laptops.
When improperly disposed of, e-waste can find their way into the food chain or cause air pollution.
The Dangers of E-Waste
In the UK alone, a majority of the old electronics end up as e-waste with only 45% of them being recycled. Companies in the IT and telecommunication field, particularly, are the biggest contributors of e-waste. The top disposable or replaceable electronic items are computers, telephones, monitors, printers, scanners, routers keyboard and mice—the usual equipment you’ll find in an office.
Electronics like these are usually made up of toxic materials that can increase the incidence of health complications when emitted by e-waste. Prolonged exposure to e-waste chemicals can cause potential damage and disorder of the nervous system, heart, brain, liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin.
When unethically disposed of into the ocean, e-waste can also find their way into aquatic life resulting in bio-accumulation of hazardous chemicals, and can even end up on our dinner plates.
Moreover, the hazardous chemicals in e-waste can severely damage the environment when it contaminates the soil and the surrounding area of the landfill. When burnt, the plastics in e-waste release highly toxic dioxins and furans leading to destructive air pollution.
Another risk of the improper disposal of e-waste is identity theft. Hard drives in desktop computers, laptops and even mobile phones may contain sensitive information that can be retrieved by anyone skilled in data recovery.
Sensitive data such as private financial information, credit card numbers, and account details are often easily retrievable and can lead to theft and fraud.
E-Waste all over the World
In 2018, the estimate of the total generated e-waste globally was 48 million tonnes— the same mass as some mountains. Based on a report by the United Nations University, the generation of e-waste is rapidly escalating and is projected to continue growing at a rate of 2 million metric tonnes per year.
In the analysis of e-waste generated by region, Asia leads with a contribution of 16 million metric tonnes, with China alone bringing 7.2 million tonnes of e-waste per annum. Americas come in second with 11.7 followed by Europe with 11.6 metric tonnes.
However, European countries generate the most e-waste per capita with 15.6 kg per inhabitant. Nordic nations such as Denmark, Norway and Iceland head the global leaderboard of global e-waste.
Disposing And Recycling your Electronics the Right Way
The disposal of e-waste has now grown to be a worldwide problem, as it has become one of the fastest growing types of waste on the planet.
Getting rid of your old technology can be tricky as it often contains hazardous materials that should never go straight to the landfill. What’s more, there are valuable materials incorporated in your electronics such as gold, silver and copper that are definitely worth recycling.
So, how do you do e-waste recycling safely and responsibly?
- The WEEE Scope
In 2003, Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling schemes have been regulated to help manage e-waste disposal. WEEE covers most items that are powered by batteries or have mains plugs. The scope of WEEE includes computers, laptops, phones, printers, fax machines, scanners, keyboards and mice, routers, etc.
These items have a crossed-out wheelie bin logo to indicate that they should not be mixed with general waste. To find out if your electronic devices need to be specially disposed of, look for the WEEE logo in the product’s manual or on the device itself.
To learn more about the scope of WEEE in the UK, click here.
- Find Options to Recycle
There are a lot of options out there for your old electronics. If you’re recycling old but still functional equipment, donating it to a charity is a good option. Some charitable organizations have schemes to reuse or refurbish outdated electronic devices.
If it’s still in a good working condition, you may also opt to sell it for a lower price and use the money to buy an upgraded replacement. For broken devices or larger appliances, ask your retailer if they offer a recycling service or find out from your local council as most now have WEEE recycling schemes.
However, if you’re thinking of refitting your whole office and disposing of a large number of devices, there are specialist companies, like money4mytech, who can collect your e-waste in bulk to safely dispose or refurbish it.
- Safe and Secure Disposal
Before disposing of your old computer or any related equipment, it is important to ensure that you also safely dispose of any sensitive data.
Simply deleting the files or formatting the data drive of your computer is not sufficient as data can still be recovered with the right tools. You have to overwrite the content of the drive multiple times, boot it up and wipe the drive to safely destroy the data. The newest version of MacOS and Windows have built-in tools that allow you to do this.
In the case of non-working equipment, you should remove the hard drive and physically destroy it by hitting it with a hammer or exposing it to a strong magnet. Also, remember that related equipment like routers and printers may also contain access settings to your network.
The same applies to smartphones and tablets or any smart devices that may contain login details. To ensure that all of your information is safely removed from these devices, perform a factory reset before disposal.
The state of e-waste generation is likely to grow in the future, therefore, businesses should do their part in the proper disposal and recycling of old IT and electrical equipment safely and responsibly.