E-waste: the high cost of high-tech

Much of our e-waste – such as these computer parts – ends up in developing countries. Greenpeace India

E-waste from used electrical and electronic gadgets such as desktop computers, laptops and iPhones is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. Rapid uptake of information technology around the world coupled with the advent of new design and technology at regular intervals is causing the early obsolescence of many such gadgets.

We all know the benefits of electrical and electronic gadgets. But we don’t know nearly as much about the adverse effects they have once we throw them away.

In the United States, producer of the largest amounts of e-waste in the world, it is estimated that over 100 million computers, monitors and televisions become obsolete each year. That amount is growing every year.

The European Union generated an estimated 9.3 million tonnes of e-waste in 2005. This included 40 million personal computers and 32 million televisions.

Each year over 130 million mobile phones in the United States and over 105 million mobile phones in Europe reach the end of their life and are thrown away.

E-waste has become a serious social problem and an environmental threat in many countries. The United Nations estimates that collectively the world now generates 20 to 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year. By 2020, it estimates e-waste from old computers in South Africa and China will have jumped by 200-400% and in India by 500% from 2007 levels.

Most of the used electrical and electronic gadgets in Australia end up in landfill. The Australian Government reported that in 2007-08, 31.7 million new televisions, computers and computer products were [sold in Australia]. In the same period, 16.8 million of these items reached the end of their life: 88% went to landfill and only 9% were recycled.

By 2027-28, the government estimates 44 million televisions, computers and computer products will be reaching the end of their life.

E-waste is escalating all over the world. Curtis Palmer