E-Waste Problems and Environmental Impacts

E-Waste Problems Introduction

As the electronic and digital computing markets continue to expand and gain in popularity worldwide, the volume of electronic equipment being generated and consumed is also rising at alarming rates. So too is the need for secure and environmentally sound methods of electronic waste disposal or e-waste disposal.

When the service life of consumable items in these sectors expires, device and hardware owners must then face the dilemma of how to dispose of electronics: Sell? Recycle? Or just throw them away?

While the throw-away and recycling options for electronic disposal often have the advantage in terms of speed and convenience for the owner, the types of materials they’re discarding or recycling can throw up the issue of e-waste and how best to manage and dispose of it.

What is E-waste?

E-waste is the term used to describe any discarded electronic device or a product that contains electronic components. That basically includes anything that uses electricity, either from a power outlet or a battery.

Why has E-waste Become so much of a Problem?

As the use of technology has grown worldwide, the need to dispose of obsolete and surplus equipment has also grown exponentially. Technology soon becomes obsolete, at home as well as in the office. Think about:

  • Video tape recorders
  • Walkman tape players
  • Electronic calculators
  • CRT monitors
  • Dot matrix printers
  • The number of batteries that power these things

In the past these were usually dumped with the rest of the garbage. But the environmental impact of e waste is now recognized as a massive ecological problem by many governments.

E waste problems have been made worse by the short lifetime of today’s electronic products, which can be 2 years or even less for things like:

  • Digital watches
  • Laptops
  • Mobile phones
  • Chargers
  • Smoke alarms
  • Children’s toys
E-Waste Problems

How Serious are E-Waste Problems?

The environmental hazards of e waste should not be underestimated. Every bit of e waste, no matter how small, contains substances that cause pollution. Dumping e waste without attempting to recycle the contents also depletes the earth’s resources.

The scale of problems with e waste is massive: In 2021 the global volume of e-waste generated was 48 million tons which is 6.8kg for every person on the planet. By 2030 this is expected to be 67 million tons, double what it was in 2014.

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What’s in E-waste?

E-waste contains a wide variety of materials that affect the environmental impact of e waste including:

  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Hydrocarbons
  • Other toxins

These are used in electronic components including circuit boards, power supplies, heat sinks, wires, screens, hard drives and more.

The hazards to the environment from e waste components depend on the type of product and its age:

Heavy metals and toxic chemicals

Electronics also contain toxic heavy metals and chemicals that cause e waste problems if they aren’t disposed of correctly. These have proved to be extremely hazardous to health and the environment, and include:

Lead: Damages brain function, particularly in children

Americium: Can induce cancer

Mercury: Causes memory loss, muscle weakness, and reduced fertility

Cadmium: Severe lung damage if breathed in

Sulfur: Damages the liver, heart, kidneys, and eyes.

Chromium: A known cause of cancer



Today’s electronic products contain a lot of plastics. All discarded plastics pollute the air, land, and water. They take hundreds of years to decompose. Some are toxic and will release deadly chlorine into the atmosphere if incinerated.

Hazardous hydrocarbons

E-waste contains hydrocarbon chemicals including brominated flame retardants. These increase the environmental hazards of e waste, because as well as being toxic to humans they also contribute to global warming when released into the atmosphere.

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Formal and Informal E Waste Recycling

E-waste recycling can be done formally or informally. Both approaches attempt to solve e waste problems, but informal recycling increases the environmental impact of e waste and the environmental hazards of e waste.

Here we will explore the differences and the environmental impact of the two e waste recycling methods.  These can help answer the question ‘e waste why is it a problem?’

Formal e waste recycling

Formal recycling tries to minimize the environmental hazards of e waste by using responsible and ethical approaches. It includes:

  • Careful disassembly
  • Separation into raw material types
  • Cleaning
  • Shredding ready for re-use

Formal e waste recycling is more expensive and takes more time than informal approaches. Companies that use formal e waste recycling follow strict health and safety rules and pollution free techniques to protect their employees and the environment.


Informal E waste Recycling

Because of the high costs and government regulations of formal recycling, many companies choose to export their e-waste to developing countries where recycling is cheaper.

Poorly paid and exploited men, women, and children use methods to recover valuable materials that release harmful pollutants and toxins into the environment:

  • Incinerating to destroy unwanted materials
  • Using toxic mercury and acids to recover gold

The workers and people living nearby are often harmed by these processes.

Negative effects of e-waste on the environment

The environmental impact of computer disposal and other e-waste can have negative effects on

  • Air
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Humans

E-Waste Problems: Negative effects of e-waste on air

Careless dismantling, shredding and incineration releases harmful dust and toxins into the air, polluting it and causing damage to the respiratory system. The fine particles can travel thousands of miles, so the environmental hazards of e waste can cause harm not just in the country where the recycling is done.

Negative effects of e-waste on soil​

This environmental impact of e waste is long lasting. Putting e-waste in the garbage will release toxins into the soil as it degrades. Informal recycling does the same. These toxins can:

  • Deform plants
  • Reduce crop yields
  • Be absorbed by the crops which are then eaten by livestock or humans

Soil can also be contaminated by large particles produced by burning e-waste. The level of contamination depends on factors including soil type, temperature, and PH levels.  These pollutants can stay in the soil for a long time, and harm microorganisms in soil that help to provide fertility.

E-Waste Problems: Negative effects of e-waste on water

Rain flushes toxic heavy metals out of contaminated soil into water systems. The polluted water then harms plants, animals, and humans. This can be many miles away from the original contamination source and includes the oceans.

The pollutants make water more acidic and toxic. E waste problems with water:

  • Kill marine and freshwater plants and fish
  • Harm biodiversity
  • Destroy ecosystems

Negative effects of e-waste on humans

Electronic waste contains a cocktail of toxic components that are dangerous to human health. These poisons can harm the:

  • Brain
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Muscles
  • Bones
  • Nervous system
  • Reproductive system
  • Fertility

They can also cause deformities in unborn babies.

What to Look for in an E-Waste Disposal Service

Throw Computers and Electronics in the Trash

So how can we solve the problem of e waste? The best way is to use a multi solution approach that changes how people think and behave.


Long term the easiest way to reduce the environmental impact of e waste is to design products that don’t produce it. That can be done using a combination of:

  • Reduce the level of harmful components
  • Make products last longer


The lifetime of products can be increased by donating or selling unwanted electronics to someone else to use. Many retailers now offer trade-in schemes where returned products are refurbished and resold at a discount.


Repairing electronics stops them becoming e-waste. Some manufacturers are now designing products so that faulty parts can be easily replaced. There are thousands of on-line resources that provide helpful information on how to do your own repairs.


Recycling e-waste using formal ecologically sound approaches should be the last resort. Many local communities and civil bodies now provide easily accessible drop-off points for unwanted electronics.

E-waste Problems In Summary

E waste has been poisoning our fragile planet for years, ever since electricity was first invented. The consequences of failing to tackle e waste problems pose serious threats to public health and the future of humankind. You can do your part to help reduce the impact of e waste. Speaking to experts in e waste recycling and recovery is a good first step. Contact us to find out how you can start.