What is E-Waste? (and 6 Ways To REDUCE It)

Many people ask: “What is e-waste?”. Well, nowadays, it is difficult to envision a world without such a vast array of electronics that, unfortunately, are destined to become e-waste. Smartphones, laptops, wireless headphones, headsets, TVs, tablets, and numerous other devices seem to have become part of our everyday vernacular, almost at random, without us even realizing it.

It’s incredible to think that there was ever a time when this technology was not around, much less to the extent it exists today. However, there comes a time when electronics break or become redundant, and while we may not think twice about reusing materials like metals, glass, or plastic, we don’t often give sufficient thought to recycling electronic items.

Often, we are too focused on getting that upgraded mobile phone model or replacing an HDTV with a brand-new 4K smart TV, largely due to rapidly changing technology and the availability of electronic products on the market. This lifestyle has led to a problem known as e-waste. 

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The UK is one of the largest producers of e-waste in the world, and we as a country need to learn how to dispose of unwanted or redundant electronics more sustainably and sensibly. So let’s take a closer look at e-waste, and how smarter choices can be made when discarding and replacing valuable electronic items. 

What is E-Waste?

what is e-waste

E-waste refers to electrical equipment that is no longer usable. Such waste includes mobile phones, computers, televisions, tablets, and many types of home appliances like air conditioning units, toasters, coffee machines, or mains-powered toys. Essentially, e-waste consists of any product with plugs and electronic components.

Why is E-Waste such a Problem?

Millions of tonnes of electronic waste are generated globally every year. As Do Something points out 20-50 million metric tonnes of e-waste are discarded every year, with only 12.5% of this being recycled. 

Most e-waste is sent to landfill sites where, after a while, harmful or hazardous materials (such as lead, mercury, or cadmium) are released into the environment. Alternatively, e-waste may end up incinerated, which can result in significant air pollution.

The contents of e-waste are a significant human health risk, not to mention the environment, which is why efficient and effective management is key. Unethical disposal can contaminate water and soil, damaging valuable species and ecosystems that we rely heavily on. 

This is where proper e-waste recycling needs to be done, and, at the very least, there needs to be greater awareness of how we as everyday consumers can make better use of the finite electronics that we use regularly. 

Reducing our e-waste footprint is imperative. While a concentrated global effort is vital for protecting the environment, there are some simple and effective ways we can all make a positive difference. Minimising e-waste helps us to conserve natural resources and reduce the amount of energy and materials used in the manufacturing process.

Recycled parts use considerably less energy than the constant creation of new ones. All it takes is some small habitual changes to our mindset, and committing to the avoidance of extensive disposal of used electronics. Many comparatively outdated items in our homes could be put to better use elsewhere.

6 Ways to Reduce E-Waste

Here are 6 methods to reduce e-waste and its environmental footprint:

1. Donate or Sell Unneeded Electronics

This is one of the best ways you can reduce e-waste. When you donate electronics that still work, you can ensure that they will be put to good use, perhaps in the hands of someone that does not have access to the same level of technology that most people do. 

Many charities or nonprofit organisations accept unwanted electrical donations for onward distribution to schools or communities. Alternatively, they are sold to fund charitable outreach programmes. Reselling sites also allow users to buy, sell, or trade used equipment like cameras or hard drives, serving a mutual benefit and purpose.

2. Reduce Our Consumption

It’s undoubtedly tempting to purchase a brand-new TV or upgrade your laptop or mobile phone. However, it’s important to take a step back and assess whether you genuinely need the most recent model of a device before you make the purchase. In fact, you can avoid electronic waste by not replacing devices every time a new version comes out!

If your old device is in good working condition, why not consider just upgrading the software? Fixing an older model to further prolong its life presents a much greener option than buying new one. Reducing your consumption lessens the environmental impact of manufacturing new devices, which use large amounts of water and energy.

3. Return the Item 

If an item is beyond repair, it may be possible to return the device to the retailer or manufacturer. If they have a process for returning non-functioning electronic devices and their materials, you could benefit from doing so. They may even give you store credit or discounts to use for other products in-store.

While you’ll have to search for companies that accept goods beyond their working lives, if and when you find one, you’ll be making a positive environmental difference.

4. Find Recycling Points that Will Accept Electrical Items

Any items with plugs or charging ports should not be sent to landfill and should be recycled at dedicated Recycling Centres, electrical item banks, or via third-party retailers. Many local councils accept small electricals as part of their residents’ regular home recycling schemes. 

You may need to consult with your specific local authority to determine the correct process for electrical item collection. Alternatively, research online to find out-of-home recycling points to make sure that your items are going to be disposed of correctly and ethically.

5. Buy Greener Appliances and Products

Saving money on purchases has become a priority for many homeowners these days, particularly during the cost-of-living crisis. However, buying specific appliances with high energy ratings is an excellent way to make long-term cost savings. 

These appliances are designed to be more efficient than standard models, using less energy per day and, as a result, generating far less electronic waste.

You could also end up with better warranty coverage if you buy more sustainable appliances. In the long run, ultimately, you will be less likely to generate e-scrap if you buy green from the outset.

6. Extend the Life of Your Electronics

Another effective way to reduce your e-waste is to preserve your current electronic possessions as much as possible. Keeping them in good condition, cleaning them regularly and removing excessive debris and dust is a good start. 

Ensure that you buy screen protectors and hard-wearing cases to prevent damage to them. In addition, you may want to exercise caution when it comes to ‌devices’ batteries; for example, avoid overcharging them and store them in cool, dry places. 

Importance of Data Security With Old Electronic Devices

You will need to make sure that your data has been permanently deleted before you recycle, reuse, or donate your old device. This is crucial, not just for your own security but also for any GDPR compliance issues that could arise if any stored data fell into the wrong hands.

Unless you are using a specialist e-waste recycling facility that can guarantee safe removal of all the existing data on that hard drive, you need to ensure nothing can be recovered. 

Even formatting hard disks or deleting files doesn’t eliminate them entirely, as they can be recovered with special tools or functions. The safest solution is to use software that will securely wipe the disk, which you should run once you have backed up your important files, before the device is then donated, sold, returned, or recycled.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that e-waste is a growing and persistent problem, but small actions can have a large impact on reducing the effects of electronic waste disposal. 

Educating our friends, family and colleagues about the issues and implications of e-waste is also crucial. If we can get more people on board with protecting our environment as much as possible, it will go a long way.

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