Older Electronic Items Degrade and Contribute to Worrying Amount of Harmful E-waste

According to a new study, consumers who were warned that not recycling their batteries “risked contaminating the equivalent of 140 Olympic swimming pools per year” were more inclined to engage in an electronic trash recycling plan.

Strong metaphorical messages can help tackle toxic e-waste

(Photo : Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images)


The University of Portsmouth report investigates how to enhance our sustainable disposal of electronic trash (e-waste), as per ScienceDaily.

With Christmas approaching and customers purchasing the latest mobile phones, tablets, headphones, and televisions, older electronic items become obsolete, contributing to the growing amount of potentially dangerous e-waste.

University of Portsmouth researchers conducted a study to determine what characteristics motivate customers to securely dispose of e-waste, which will be important for managers and policymakers adopting disposal systems.

The study’s lead author, Dr Diletta Acuti of the University’s Faculty of Business and Law, stated, “The world’s electronic waste is an enormous problem that needs to be addressed urgently.”

E-waste frequently contains hazardous substances, such as mercury, lead, or acid, and ends up in landfills without any treatment or special precautions, causing significant long-term damage to the environment and human health.

In 2019, 205,000 tons of portable batteries were sold in Europe, but only half of them were collected for recycling, according to Dr. Acuti’s research, which focuses on battery disposal.

The researchers ran a field experiment in Northern Italy to examine how the closeness of bins and the language used to urge recycling influenced the efforts of 100 people to dispose of their e-waste.

“We’re buying more and more technology, resulting in mountains of e-waste, and the situation is only going to grow worse,” she said, adding that effective trash disposal can only be done if customers actively participate in recycling.

“Our research investigates which elements are beneficial in encouraging individuals to recycle their e-waste, which we think will be valuable in creating successful disposal systems.”

A number of bins were placed to collect old batteries, and leaflets were sent to tell people about the new initiative.

Some of the letters used metaphorical language to see whether it would stimulate recycling activities, while others used numerical facts. The study discovered that metaphorical language had a greater effect on customer behavior.

Read more: E-Waste Problem Grows as Five Billion Mobile Phones to be Thrown Out in 2022

The Growing Environmental Risks of E-Waste

E-waste is hazardous, non-biodegradable, and accumulates in the environment, including soil, air, water, and live organisms, as per the Geneva Environment Network.

Toxic elements seep into the environment when open-air burning and acid baths are used to recover precious materials from electronic components, for example.

These procedures can also expose employees to high quantities of toxins including lead, mercury, beryllium, thallium, cadmium, and arsenic, as well as brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and polychlorinated biphenyls, which can cause cancers, miscarriages, neurological damage, and lower IQs.

According to the paper, incorrect e-waste disposal is causing a considerable loss of scarce and expensive raw minerals such as neodymium (essential for motor magnets), indium (used in flat panel TVs), and cobalt (for batteries).

Almost no rare earth minerals are taken via informal recycling; mining them is polluting. However, metals in e-waste are difficult to remove; for example, overall cobalt recovery rates are just 30% (despite the fact that technology exists to recycle 95%).

However, metal is in high demand for laptops, smartphones, and electric vehicle batteries. Metals smelted from recycled ore are also two to ten times more energy efficient than metals smelted from virgin ore.

Global recycling rates are poor. Even in the EU, which is the world leader in e-waste recycling, only 35% of e-waste is officially recognized as collected and recycled.

The global average is 20%; the remaining 80% remains unrecorded, with most of it buried for millennia as trash.

Electronic garbage is not biodegradable.

The worldwide electronic sector suffers from a shortage of recycling, and as gadgets become more numerous, smaller, and more complicated, the problem worsens.

Recycling various forms of e-waste and recovering materials and metals is currently a costly procedure.

The remaining bulk of e-waste, primarily plastics laced with metals and chemicals, presents a more difficult challenge.

Technological advancements such as cloud computing and the internet of things (IoT) have the potential to “dematerialize” the electronics sector.

The growth of service business models, as well as improved product monitoring and takeback, may result in worldwide circular value chains.

To satisfy the demands of electronics supply chains, material efficiency, recycling infrastructure, and increasing the amount and quality of recovered materials will all be critical.

If the industry is backed with the correct policy mix and managed properly, it has the potential to create millions of excellent employment worldwide.

Related article: Bitcoin Transactions Contribute to Alarming E-Waste Crisis, Generating Major Environmental Harm


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