Recycling E-Waste – What we can do to help

Recycling e-Waste has been an ongoing problem. What can we do to contribute to the elimination of the problem?

With more and more of our lives and businesses taking place online and requiring the use of electronic devices, there’s no end in sight to producing e-Waste.

Wealthier countries unfortunately often enough just try to export the problems, though more and more steps are taken to deal with e-Waste more responsibly.

Not only are some components toxic and hazardous and can be a danger to the environment and the people dealing with them, our electronic devices also consist of rare materials, which we lose if we don’t recycle them properly.

Let’s take a look at what we’re dealing with and what we can do.

What happens to our e-waste?

The global amount of electronic waste or e-waste is growing: from 44.4MT (1MT is one billion kilograms) in 2014 to 53.6MT in 2019, it is expected to reach 74.7MT by 2030.

Like most things concerning environmental protection it seems like we should have been talking and doing more about this a long time ago, but since we haven’t  – let’s at least start now.

What exactly is e-waste?

E-waste or electronic waste, also called e-scrap and end-of-life electronics includes anything with plugs, cords and electronic components. The terms are often used to describe used electronics that are nearing the end of their useful life, and are discarded, donated or given to a recycler.

Common sources of e-waste include televisions, computers, mobile phones – almost any household or business item containing circuitry or electrical components with either power or battery supply.

There are 6 different categories of e-waste:

  • Temperature exchange equipment such as refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, heat pumps, etc.
  • Screens & monitors
  • Lamps
  • Large equipment (washing machines, clothes dryers, dish-washing machines, copying equipment, and photovoltaic panels, etc.)
  • Small equipment (vacuum cleaners, microwaves, etc.)
  • Small IT and telecommunication equipment such as mobile phones, GPS, pocket calculators, routers, personal computers, printers, telephones, etc.

How many of these have you disposed of in the last year?

What happens to your e-waste?

At this point in time less than 20% of the global e-waste gets recycled even though e-waste contains valuable non-renewable resources, such as gold, silver, copper, aluminium or cobalt.

from Global E-Waste Monitor 2020

What happens to the other 80%? An undetermined amount of used electronics is shipped from wealthier areas to poorer regions that don’t have the capacity to reject imports or to handle these materials appropriately. This may result in public health and environmental concerns, even in countries where processing facilities exist. Much e-waste also remains in the sheds, attics and storage rooms of its owners or gets disposed of with the normal household bin.

What happens then? When e-waste gets disposed of in normal household bins its usually incinerated or landfilled without recycling, which both causes dangers to the environment and wastes useful materials. There are also private companies and collectors, but chances are high with either of these that they don’t dispose all hazardous materials safely. The only way to make sure that your e-waste gets recycled properly is to deliver it to the official collection points that fall under the requirements of national e-waste legislations. These are in place in 78 ot of 193 countries in 2019, which equals 71% of the global population (this was 61 countries, 44% in 2014).


from Global E-Waste Monitor 2020

What are the effects?

If your e-waste does not get recycled properly it can and in most cases does lead to environmental contamination, this has a negative effect on the communities exposed to contaminated water, air or food (and we’ve seen how pollution for example makes people even more vulnerable when it comes to global pandemics such as Covid).

It also affects the workers directly and we have to be aware that these include children as well.


from Global E-Waste Monitor 2020

Recycling E-Waste – What we can do

As we have just seen, electronics contain valuable precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin, and zinc that can be recovered and used to make jewellery, plating, new electronics, or automotive parts. Plastic components can be recycled as well. In Germany more and more conscious providers use recycled plastic for bottles for cleaning supplies and shampoos.

When they get disposed of in the regular garbage, the reusable parts will be wasted and the chemicals will have a negative on the environment in landfills as well as when they get incinerated.

Alternative approaches

Try to use your devices as long as possible. Did you know that the battery of your phone lasts longer when you always keep the battery level between 20 and 80%?

Instead of buying a new phone or laptop, see if you can get a refurbished one. They often come with a longer guarantee than new ones, but usually look and work as if they were new. Most likely you will also be able to sell your old device to the company you get you refurbished item from.

For printers, fridges, radios you can often find local repair cafés, where you can prolong the life of your electronics.

If you really don’t want to keep them any more, but they are still working – you can usually donate them to charity.

If they are broken and can’t be fixed, you can bring them to your local recycler who will take care of removing the components correctly for reuse. In Germany on and offline retailers will also take back your electronic devices.

Batteries can be dropped of at local supermarkets with collection boxes or at shops such as DM or Rossmann.

And your local print supplier accepts and reuses your old printing cartridges.

Recycling e-waste is actually not that hard. But as pointed out in the last post so far only 70% of the population has access to recyclers or other facilities that will dispose of or reuse electronic waste safely.

And even though Europe has the highest rate when it comes to recycling e-waste, it’s still below 50%. So there’s a lot of room for improvement!

see also

4 Remarkable E-Waste Recycling Companies

Here are four examples of people and initiatives that are already contributing to creating a solution for e-Waste in their area. Find out what it is that they do.

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

Film: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
The story of William Kamkwamba – a young schoolboy who builds a windmill to secure the survival of his family and the other villagers…

5 Excellent Recycling Websites

What can we do to support recycling on a global level? Let’s take a look at some companies and organizations who present their work on remarkable websites.

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Verena is a web & media designer, anthropologist & coach.

On the blog she shares some practical tips and inspirations that can make it easier to make this world a better place & to grow your business - one small change at a time.

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