Where does your E-waste actually end up?

E-waste is electronic equipment that has reached the end of its useful life. It's your flat screen TVs, laptops, phones, not to mention their accessories such as cables, batteries, chargers and cords. According to Peppermint Magazine, Every Australian parts with an estimated 25 kilograms of electronic rubbish each year.

E-waste recycling is an ethical and planet-strong way of disposing of old electronics. But how can you be sure that these items are actually being recycled, and not just shipped off to a landfill on the other side of the world?

One environmental group had the bright idea of attaching GPS tracking devices to 200 old printers and monitors, sending them to e-waste services, and seeing where these items travelled to.

The Basel Action Network's project has been running since July 2015, providing some real insights into the global e-waste economy. Shockingly, 32.5% of the tracked pieces of e-waste have ended up in countries with laws against importing e-waste such as Hong Kong.

See an interactive visualisation of the journey of one of these pieces of e-waste

So why is this a problem? Well, old electronics such as broken laptops or old phones contain hundreds of different substances, some of which are potentially highly toxic. While much of electronic waste is made of metals (gold, lead, nickel, silver, tin and zinc) and plastics, they may also contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, battery acid, inks, dyes and other things that you REALLY don't want leaking into your soil/water.

What's more, e-waste exported to developing countries often ends up in informal recycling schemes run by individuals, and sometimes criminal gangs. Places such as Guiyu in China and Agbogbloshie in Ghana have become notorious for their unregulated, heavily polluted, sweatshop-dominated, digital dumps.

In some countries, this has dominated the e-waste recycling chain, with equipment burnt in open fires or processed with hazardous acids in order to recover valuable metals. These fires cause toxic chemicals to end up in the air, posing major health concerns for the whole community.

Learn more about this issue here

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According to KCTS, "Electronics are the fastest growing waste stream in the world. And the United States is the planet's biggest source of e-waste, generating almost 8 million tons a year." With numbers like these, it's easy to see why poor e-waste recycling practices are so worrying.

“You buy a new phone or computer and you take your old one to a local recycler. It’s the green thing to do, right? It turns out some of those devices may not be getting recycled at all.”


Before delving in to E-waste disposal, let's take a step back and consider the impact on our planet before a purchase is made. Before you buy:

  1. Ask, do I need this? Often, the answer is no!
  2. Do I need to buy this new? Admittedly, some electronic items such as phones and computers are considered essential in today's modern world. Perhaps think about swapping, borrowing, or renting your electronic goods.
  3. If you must buy a new product, avoid disposable products as much as possible. Try to look for durable items that have warranty. Also try to consider the ethical footprint of the item. There are some great apps than are super helpful for this process.
  4. If you MUST get rid of old electronics, take a moment to check out our helpful guide on ethical disposal

Read this next: Are you paying for products that are designed to fail?

Images: Unsplash and Shutterstock

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Steph Newman Former Social Media Assistant Suggest an article Send us an email

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