Understanding E-Waste In Less Than 5 Minutes

by Rasheeda Russell on Jun 07, 2022

broken iphone screen and tweezers

Tech is an essential part of life. It has become central to everything we do. But do you know what happens to your laptop, phone or other tech at the end of its life? It often lays in a drawer and eventually ends up in the bin, after a spring clean, or gets sent for data destruction, but it inevitably ends up in landfill. This adds to the growing e-waste problem -- an environmental problem finally starting to get the focus it needs.

What is e-waste?

Electronic waste or e-waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. Used electronics which are destined for refurbishment, reuse, resale, salvage recycling through material recovery, or disposal are also considered e-waste.


Why is it so bad?

In 2019, there were 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste, and by 2021, it is predicted to reach over 57 million tons! Think of it like dumping more than 3 million double-decker London buses into our planet 😱

Electronic scrap components, such as CPUs, contain potentially harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants. Recycling and disposal of e-waste may involve significant risk to the health of workers and their communities. Informal processing of e-waste in developing countries has led to adverse human health effects and environmental pollution.

london bus with yellow line graphic

In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, the world’s largest e-waste dumping ground there are over 10,000 people scavenging through tech scraps for a living. With reports of chickens eggs having contained chlorinated dioxin causing side effects of cancer and immune system deterioration.

This contamination leak isn’t isolated to Agbogbloshie, as these poisons pollute the groundwater and then find their way into the wider food chain, water system and spreading through to export activities.

iphones with Ghana Agbogbloshie location on Google maps

Collective Solution

Each and everyone one of us use technology and have a responsibility to help minimise the Co2 impact of producing new tech and also the e-waste problem at the end of life.

Here’s how we all can help to minimise e-waste and carbon emissions and create a better, more sustainable tech future.

Carbon emissions

60% of the Co2 emissions generated by your Laptop or Mobile Phone over its life come from the production of the device. So using a device for longer or opting for a refurbished device significantly reduces the carbon impact of the use of your tech.

grey laptop with sustainability sticker

EU Right to Repair

The EU enacted legislation in 2020 to extend eco-design law to cover phones, tablets and laptops, setting technical standards so these goods consist of changeable and repairable parts. Similarly to the current eco-design directive that sets energy efficiency standards for computers, TVs, dishwashers and washing machines.

The aim was to:

  • Encourage sustainable consumer choices and promote a culture of reuse
  • Improve reparability and extend lifespan of products
  • Call for a common charger to reduce electronic waste
technician repair device with text right to repair

House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (UK) report Nov 2020

They concluded that:

1. Protect consumers. The current business model for electronics is reliant on continuous consumption, a throwaway culture and short-lived products. The Government should protect consumers by strengthening and lengthening product lifetime guarantees and ask producers to label products with how long they will last and how easy they are to repair. We should all have a right to repair the things we own.

house of commons committee logo

2. The Government should invest, and help businesses invest, in the high quality recycling methods that already exist. It should stop investing only in low quality energy from waste. Rare and precious materials contained in electronics are vital to decarbonising our economy and protecting our countries and must be reused and recycled without polluting or harming our health and environment.

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3. Technology companies and online marketplaces must do their part. These companies, so often at the forefront of revolutionary ideas, should now take the lead in creating sustainable and environmentally-friendly business models that do not rely on exploitation of nature. Online marketplaces and retailers in particular should take responsibility for paying their fair share and preventing low quality, unsafe products being sold in the UK. Many retailers collect the electronic waste created when they deliver replacements to our homes. This has been a very successful way of increasing e-waste collections. Large online marketplaces like Amazon should do the same.

back of iphone wrapped in red circle graphic

The circular economy is a concept advanced by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

klyk logo with text reduce reuse and recycle

How can you apply this to the use of tech in your business?

Protect the device to increase the length of use

The most impactful solution is the simplest. Use your devices for longer periods of time. When you do buy new make sure the device can be repaired, avoid buying non branded products cheaply on ebay and amazon. Use a case, screen protector and the correct charger for your phone or laptop.


nolii iphone case

Repair and upgrade where you can

You don't need to buy new devices! Lot’s of tech models can be repaired and upgraded to be as good as new. Read more about this in our blog post.

Have a plan for your tech at the end of life, especially if you are buying new

  • Eco Leasing - taking corporate responsibility! Learn more about Eco Leasing here .
  • Ethical Recycling
imac with trees as home screen background