Why is it important to reduce our electronic waste?

Consumer electronics have made so many things in life easier for nearly everyone. Our smartphones are like having supercomputers in our pockets, and there is always an updated version available with yet more developments that promise convenience, especially for those living in modern cities. 

(Photo by Morten B/Shutterstock)

However, between smartphones, computers, televisions, printers and more, we seem stuck in a cycle of purchasing and replacing that is creating a global electronic waste emergency. Also known as e-waste, this worldwide phenomenon has been steadily increasing over the past ten years – but why is it important to reduce our electronic waste, and what positive impacts might this have?

Creating less landfill from e-waste

There has been much discussion lately around creating a circular economy when it comes to our electronic waste. This would result in a reduction in the amount of e-waste produced, as more people would be keeping devices for longer, passing them on to others, and eventually recycling them. This process creates less landfill, which is especially important in city locations with less space for general household waste.

Reducing toxins in the environment

Electronic waste is not biodegradable, meaning that once it is put into landfill, it remains there rather than breaking down. This is an issue not only for the land used for waste but also for the soil, water and air quality around these sites. Most electronic waste (which is usually thought of as only smartphones, computers and similar, but can be anything with a plug or battery) can release toxic chemicals such as mercury and lead. These can be extremely damaging to both people and animals alike, creating potential health implications for generations.

The depletion of raw materials is a serious concern, and e-waste that is not appropriately recycled can contribute to this enormously. Materials used to create contemporary devices include precious metals like cobalt, gold and silver, leading to more invasive mining being necessary. By reducing the amount of electronic waste we produce and reducing what we consume, we can combat these losses. 

Another positive step is to ensure that your electronic goods are properly recycled, as precious metals harvested from recycled goods produce fewer emissions than those mined from the earth. 

With mining of these raw materials using so much energy, having a secondary source of these metals via recycling could be vital for reducing energy losses, as well as reducing the depletion of natural resources. Using the right tools and strategies, much electronic waste is fully recyclable, so responsible disposal is a powerful tool.

Contributing to climate change initiatives

Climate change is one of the leading considerations in the media now, and for good reason – it is imperative that we take action to reduce our impact. While we all know about making more conscious choices with the cars we drive and the type of energy we use, it is also worth considering how electronic waste can affect our climate. 

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As we purchase increased amounts of electronic items, the manufacturing behind these goods can lead to an increase in CO2 emissions, with carbon dioxide being released throughout production. All of this happens before the product even reaches the consumer. Reducing the frequency with which we replace our electronic goods can be difficult, especially in competitive city environments where you’re surrounded by advertising, but by waiting to replace items, a lower demand may create less of these harmful emissions.

Providing electronics for those who need them

If you live in an urban environment, you may know of some local initiatives aimed at supporting those who may not have easy access to electronic devices and other contemporary essentials. Even if you need to replace your electronics before the end of their useful lifespan, you can still contribute to the circular economy and also create more opportunities for others by donating your electronic waste. This not only reduces the amount you send to landfill, but it will prolong the lifespan of “outdated” items.

With so much electronic waste going to landfill, the negative impact on the planet cannot be denied. However, with more conscious choices made both by consumers and the companies that manufacture these products, it is possible to make significant reductions in our electronic waste.

[Read more: What exactly is e-waste?]

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