Electronic Waste
  • 40 Million tons generated every year
  • 40% of the Lead in our landfills

Electronic Waste

The Bottom Line

At a global level, we dispose of over 40 million tons of electronic waste every year. While largely thought to be an environmental health problem in developing countries where electronic waste is recycled using poorly regulated or informal techniques, electronic waste can also have a serious impact on developed countries when they are disposed of in regular landfills or dumped illegally. While electronic waste makes up only a small fraction of what goes into a U.S. landfill every year, it contributes 70% of the total heavy metals now found in those landfills (e.g. arsenic, lead, cadmium, and others) and 40% of the lead (Pb). In an "ordinary" landfill, these heavy metals can leach into the underlying soil and groundwater, creating a contamination threat to the surrounding water supply for many decades into the future.

What we Know:
  • Waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) or e-waste consists not only of cell phones, batteries, and televisions but also includes appliances such as refrigerators, lamps, microwave ovens, and a incredibly wide range of things that we use that run on electricity.
  • Although it is illegal to export electronic waste to other countries for disposal or recycling, much of the electronic waste generated by Americans still lands in developed countries because it is first shipped to these countries for reuse, while the electronics, although dated, are still functional.
  • Recycling hubs for electronic waste in developing countries have done an incredible amount of damage, including contributing to respiratory problems and chronic disease among recycling workers, neurological damage in children, and widespread contamination of soil, crops, and water supplies.
  • Cathode ray tubes in older televisions and monitors can contain over five pounds of lead per unit.
  • Several billion alkaline batteries are disposed of in landfills in the U.S. every year.
  • Most urban centers in the United States now have formal recycling programs that take the most common and the most dangerous electronics for free (including smart and other mobile phones, televisions, refrigerators, and computers).
40 Million tons generated every year