How to Reduce Electronic Waste and its Hazards to the Environment

How to Reduce Electronic Waste and its Hazards to the Environment

Electronic waste (also known as e-waste) is discarded electrical or electronic devices. Improper disposal and processing of this waste can lead to adverse human and environmental damages. 

There are now more mobile phones than the number of people around the world (source). With our tendency to just throw away products and continually purchase new ones, this creates a global e-waste problem.

E-Waste's Impact on the Environment

E-waste landfill filled with old computers
Image by George Hotelling from Canton, MI, United States (E-waste recycling in Ann Arbor) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The environmental hazards caused by improper disposal of e-waste can be briefly described as follows: 

  1.  Air Pollution: Burning of wires release hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. 
  2.  Water Pollution: Electronic devices contain toxic metals like mercury, lead and lithium, which when disposed of improperly, mixes with ponds, lakes and groundwater. Communities that directly depend on these sources of water then consume it unknowingly. These heavy metals are hazardous for all forms of living beings. 
  3.  Soil Pollution: These heavy metals enter the food chain as they are absorbed by plants from the soil. These metals not only destroy the plants, but also are then consumed by other living beings, leading to a poisonous food chain. 

Now, let’s get into some tips and ways that you can reduce e-waste.

Ways to Reduce E-Waste and its Hazards

The following are eight ways to curb these environmental hazards, reduce electronic waste, and save our planet: 

1. Sell old Electronics

One of the best and easiest methods of reducing the electronic waste footprint is to sell or donate your electronic gadgets to those in need. 

If you are planning on selling, you should be able to easily find a buyer as they will have the opportunity to purchase the same product at a much lower price than if it were new. You get easy money while the buyer gets a nice gadget; a win-win for both.

A good place to sell old electronics (without any fees) is Craigslist. You can sell unwanted devices by posting an ad and meeting up with potential buyers. 

Another website you can use to sell old devices is Kijiji, which works similar to Craigslist. However, Kijiji only works in Canada.

2. Donate old Electronics

Donating electronics to the needy is also a practice followed by many. It not only gives the gadget a new life, but also makes you feel good about yourself.

If you decide to donate your old electronic devices when you don’t need them anymore, make sure to clear any information (like data in your laptop hard drive) before you donate it.

To learn more about donating gadgets safely and correctly, check out this EPA guide on donating and recycling electronics.

3. Recycle and Dispose of E-Waste Properly

Improperly disposed e-waste is becoming more and more hazardous, especially as the sheer volume of our e-waste increases.

For this reason, large brands like Apple, Samsung, and other companies have started giving options to its customers to recycle old electronics. Sometimes, you may even get financial compensation for recycling your old devices!

Recycling old electronics allows the expensive electronic parts inside to be reused. This can save a lot of energy and reduce the need for mining of new raw resources, or manufacturing new parts.

You can find electronic recycling programs in your local area by doing a Google search for “recycle electronics” and your city or area name.

4. Maintain your Electronics

One of the best ways to save your money and reduce e-waste is to keep your electronics well-maintained, to increase its life. Here are some tips to get you started.

Maintaining a Laptop or Computer:

  • Make sure your PC’s hard drive or SSD doesn’t get completely full. This allows it to keep running smoothly and quickly for a long time.
  • Clean your computer often so that it doesn’t get dirty.
  • Whenever possible, try not to overcharge your battery. This means unplugging your charger before your laptop hits 100%, which will improve your battery’s overall lifespan.

Maintaining a Mobile Phone:

  • Use a phone case and screen protector so that your phone doesn’t break when you drop it.
  • Similarly to laptops, keep your device clean and don’t always fully charge your battery if you don’t need to (This improves overall battery lifespan).

By maintaining your electronics, you save money on having to buy new gadgets when your old ones break down. You’re also keeping electronics out of landfills by increasing the total lifespan of your electronic devices.

5. Repurpose or Re-evaluate

Always think twice before upgrading or buying a new electronic device:

  1. Do you really need this new device?
  2. Is it a need, or more of a want
  3. Will it add value to your personal or professional life in any way?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, then it might be best to re-evaluate your thoughts, and avoid buying it.

To add on to this, you can repurpose old electronics that aren’t useful anymore for their intended use.

For example: An old mobile phone can work as an mp3 player or even as a GPS device. Don’t throw it away, think wisely! 

6. Store Data Online

Cloud services are much better than you would think in reducing your environmental impact.

By storing data online, you get to access your data from anywhere around the world, without the need to carry a storage device at all times. Cloud storage also gives you a large amount of storage, for free or for very cheap.

This not only offers convenience to you, but reduces the need for manufacturing of new storage devices.

This indirectly reduces your carbon footprint and curbs the amount of generated e-waste. 

7. Buy Energy Star Rated Electronics

Investing in environmental friendly electronics have interdependent benefits. 

A high Energy Star rated device consumes less energy, reducing your electricity bill significantly. In addition, because less energy is required, it keeps a check on resource (energy) depletion by avoiding over-utilization. It indirectly saves the environment by reducing the load on resources’ (energy) extraction and depletion. 

When purchasing, look for electronics and appliances with the Energy Star logo:

Energy Star logo

8. Learn to Repair Broken Electronics at Home

Some brands of modern electronic devices are only meant to last for a few years under regular use before failing.

However, along with maintaining your electronic devices by cleaning them regularly to help them last for longer, you could also learn how to fix hardware problems on your device.

Online sites such as iFixit provide free, step-by-step guides for fixing common issues across hundreds of different device models, along with pictures of the device and of the required tools for each repair job.

Nowadays, there are also many Youtube videos teaching you how to fix a broken laptop or do a phone screen replacement yourself. Many times, all it takes is a bit of time and patience before your gadget is good as new!

By learning to repair your electronics at home, you will gain more detailed knowledge and understanding of the hardware of your device.

You’ll also learn useful repair skills, and avoid having to travel to a professional repair shop and pay expensive fees for other people to fix your device.

Best of all, you will be able to continue using your device for longer and won’t have to throw it away.

This tip (#8) was contributed by Cloe from CloeWrites.

Take Action

Now you’ve seen seven ways to reduce the environmental effects of e-waste. It’s your turn to start taking action. 

We all need to take a stand to prevent the destruction of the environment we live in. 

About the Author: Rebecca Pryor

Rebecca Pryor is managing director of A&A Skip Hire –one of North London’s leading provider of domestic and commercial skips.

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