Updated: Mar 21
E-waste is the waste generated from discarded electronics. This can include anything that uses electricity, items that are plugged in like your phone or computer, used batteries, or even things that are solar-powered.
With the rise in consumption and ease of access to technology, e-waste is the fastest growing domestic waste stream in the world.
By the Numbers:
On average, consumers keep cell phones for only 2 years before upgrading or throwing them out.
It takes roughly 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 5 tons of water to manufacture a brand new computer.
In Canada, only 14% of e-waste is collected and regulated by environmental protection laws.
E-waste has increased over 20% in the last 5 years. This is expected to climb even higher as electronics become more accessible.
The Issues of E-Waste:
1) RESOURCE EXTRACTION
It may surprise you, but your electronics are full of precious resources and materials like copper, lead, aluminum, and even gold. These materials help your devices function efficiently, but when they are thrown away, these resources can go to waste.
There’s 80x as much gold in one ton of cellphones as there is in a gold mine. That means there’s enormous potential for recycling — and yet, most electronics are sent to a landfill.
The metals and other raw materials inside your electronics come from the earth, meaning they have to be mined. Mining operations are highly energy-intensive, which can contribute to increased emissions and the footprint of your product. When an electronic reaches the end of its life, we tend to throw it in the landfill which creates more emissions and wastes the precious resources hiding inside these devices.
2) ILLEGAL TRADING
There is actually a large amount of trading that occurs for e-waste because the parts can be worth a hefty amount for their reuse value. In Canada, however, e-waste trading is illegal because of its negative environmental and social impacts. Some of the negative impacts of e-waste trading can include:
Environmental Disruption - pollution of soil and water systems, emission of greenhouse gases, thinning of the ozone layer, and degradation of marine and forest ecosystems by ultraviolet radiations.
Human Health - toxic metals and ultraviolet radiations affecting immune, respiratory and digestive systems, including high risk of skin cancer and eye diseases.
Socio-Economic Impoverishment - increased costs for public health, reduced agriculture productivity, food insecurity and poverty.
"These crimes are of international concern. The world is one vast ecosystem, and the release of Ozone-Depleting Substances (ODS) anywhere in the world impacts our common ozone layer. Dumping e-waste negatively impacts shared soils and water systems, not to mention the harm caused to human health by the illegal disposal of these materials."
3) LACK OF REGULATION
Currently, there are minor regulations in place for repairing broken or failed electronic items. Warranties exist, but tend to be for short timeframes, say around 12 months or so.
If we increased manufacturer responsibility through policy and regulation, it would result in more products being fixed and refurbished as opposed to scrapped and purchasing a new model. Regulation is needed to put the responsibility on the manufacturer.
In the News: EU Rules to Force USB-C Chargers for all Phones
Under a new rule proposed by the European Commission in Fall 2021, manufacturers will be forced to create a universal charging solution. This would help tackle e-waste and prevent consumers from purchasing unnecessary electronics.
4) WASTE PROGRAMMING
Globally, we only recycle 10% of our e-waste. The remaining 90% is either sent to the landfill, incinerated, or illegally traded.
In Canada, most of our household waste is regulated and collected by local or municipal government. We create waste, sort it into streams or bins, and put it out for collection. E-waste programs exist, but typically require you to drive to a special drop-off location because it isn't included in regular curb-side collection.
By improving accessibility to e-waste disposal through waste programming options would make electronic waste diversion more convenient and affordable.
How You Can Help:
1) REFUSE free electronic upgrades when your device is in working order. Take care of the items you already own to extend their life and save your wallet!
2) REDUCE the amount of new electronics you purchase. Consider buying one that is preloved or refurbished. It is common for electronic stores to give a discount for re-worked products.
3) REUSE and repair electronics to extend their life. If you're crafty, consider checking out resources like iFixit: The Free Repair Manual. Here you can find plenty of how-to's that can help you fix devices yourself. If you're not crafty, take it to the professionals for help.
4) RECYCLE or donate items at proper drop-off centres so they can be repurposed in part or as a whole. As mentioned, electronics can be comprised of precious materials like metals that are highly valuable and reusable.
For recycling, check locally for electronic recycling centres, such as TerraCycle drop-off locations, or those provided by your regional waste services.
For the Okanagan, be sure to check out the amazing work from PACE. Their organization has been creating meaningful employment opportunities for people who face barriers, through electronic recycling projects for over 20 years!
For donations, consider giving your preloved electronics to organizations like the Electronics Recycling Association (ERA). It will extend the life of these products and be provided to someone in need. Green Okanagan received donations from the ERA and we are so grateful!
Electronics are all around us, and inevitably, this also means that e-waste is all around us.
Follow these tips and tricks to stay mindful when purchasing your electronics, and be sure to take good care of your devices to increase their lifespan.
When done, consider donating your electronics or recycling them at designated electronic recycling drop-off spots so their materials can be extracted and reused for future products.
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