E-waste, the environmental thread of the digital transformation
The INTERFERENCE Community is drawing attention to the fastest growing waste stream that results from using phones, computers, and all kinds of digital devices. Collecting, sorting, and recycling the discarded devices are basically not existing and the informal processing of e-waste damages habitats and health.
Where do our electronics go after we get rid of them?
Electronic waste is an umbrella term for discarded electronic devices. It encompasses electronics destined for refurbishment, reuse, resale, salvage recycling through material recovery, or disposal. What is e-waste?
Annie Leonard: The Story of Electronics. on: youtube.com. 4 November 2010.
In 2019 alone, the world generated 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste. Asia produced the lion’s share – 24.9 million tonnes – followed by the Americas (13.1 million tonnes) and Europe (12 million tonnes), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 and 0.7 million tonnes respectively.
Graphic: United Nations University / Nienke Haccoû
E-Waste is the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fuelled mainly by more people buying electronic products with shorter life cycles and fewer options for repair.
E-waste contributes directly to global warming. Dumped temperature-exchange equipment, found in fridges and air conditioners, can slowly release greenhouse gases. About 98 million tonnes are thought to leak from scrapyards each year, equivalent to 0.3% of global emissions from the energy sector.
Ranjita Ganesan: Cleaning up India’s mountains of e-waste On: mircosoft.com. 9 December 2020.
Sebastien Farnaud: These microbes are being used to clean up toxic electronic waste. On: World Economic Forum Online. 24 August 2020.
Vanessa Forti: Global electronic waste up 21% in five years, and recycling isn’t keeping up. On: World Economic Forum Online. 20 July 2020.
umweltbundesamt.de: Electrical and Electronic Waste in Germany. 20 July 2020.
Colin Lecher: AMERICAN TRASH (tracking e-waste). On: The Verge. 4 December 2019.
ITU: How Switzerland is winning the battle against e-waste. 11 October 2019.
Informal processing of e-waste
Large parts of the worldwide e-waste arrive in developing countries with a significant volume exported illegally as “second hand goods”. In 2019, only 17.4% of the 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was properly collected and recycled. Informal processing of e-waste leads to adverse human health effects and environmental pollution. Electronic scrap components, such as CPUs, contain potentially harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants that involve significant risk to the health of workers and their communities.
The film “E-Wasteland (2012)” by David Fedele presents a visual portrait of unregulated e-waste recycling in Ghana.