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Information on E-Waste

 What is e-waste? Electronic waste (e-waste) is electronic products including cell phones, computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos and speakers, copiers and printers, microwaves, x-ray machines, fax machines, and scientific equipment nearing the end of their useful life. E-waste is the most rapidly growing segment of the municipal waste stream, with 20-50 million tons generated each year, because of industrial design practices that entail planned obsolescence, stimulating demand for products that have short life spans in order to increase product consumption.

Why are we concerned about e-waste? This rapidly growing segment of our waste stream is of substantial concern because of hazardous and toxic materials present in the solders, coatings and glass. E-waste may contain significant amounts of heavy metals such as lead, barium, mercury, cadmium and other hazardous materials requiring proper management in order to minimize the risk to public health and the environment.

How is e-waste useful? E-waste also contains valuable resources that should be recovered such as precious metals, engineered plastics, glass, and other materials, all of which require energy to manufacture. Thus, if these resources are not recovered, additional pollution will be generated to manufacture new products out of virgin materials.

How should e-waste be handled? E-waste best management practices dictate that the waste is processed in the most environmentally desirable method, meaning that none of the waste will be handled in such a way as to contaminate the environment. If handled improperly, the toxic components found in e-waste can find their way into the water or air and potentially cause risk to the public and the surrounding environment. Therefore, a waste management hierarchy for electronics, in order of preference, is listed below:

  • Reuse electronics equipment, components, or demanufactured items. To find an organizationthat reuses or recycles electronics, search the Electronic Product Management Directory (EPMD);
  • Recycle equipment or components for material recovery;
  • Manage components for energy recovery; and
  • Dispose of components via incineration or landfill (least preferable).

The following are a few facts about the severity and extent of the e-waste problem:

  • Consumer electronics comprises 2 to 5 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream.
  • The consumer electronics waste stream is growing three times faster than the solid waste
  • More than 10,000 computers and televisions a day become obsolete and are put aside in
    California (according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition).
  • Three-quarters of all of the computers sold in the U.S. remain stockpiled in a garage, closet or storage space (according to a 1999 study by the National Safety Councils Environmental HealthCenter).
  • Computers that will become obsolete by 2004 contain an estimated 1.2 billion pounds of lead (according to a study done by Californians Against Waste, eco Venture, and the Silicon ValleyToxics Coalition).
  • $75-$150 million annually could be spent on managing Californias current output of obsolete computers and televisions.
  • $1 billion could easily be spent in the next five years to clean up the last 20 years of stockpiled obsolete computers.

More complete information can be found on the California Integrated Waste Management Board
(CIWMB) website at