Disposal of Electronic Waste: A Guide

The amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (widely known as WEEE or e-waste) generated every year is increasing rapidly: But what exactly is it?

E-waste is any electrical or electronic equipment that has been discarded, which often contains a complex mixture of materials; some of which are hazardous. If not managed properly, these can cause major environmental and health problems. The term e-waste applies to all consumer and business electronic equipment no longer working or wanted. Damage, poor quality, and poor care are some of the main factors that shorten the life of tech devices, but more and more often e-waste also includes products that are recent and function fine but are now considered obsolete due to rapidly expanding technological advancements or changing personal preferences.

How is electronic waste disposed?

Rules on correct recycling of e-waste vary from country to country, but some main methods have historically been used:

  • Landfilling: The practice of filling a hole in the ground with waste and then covering it back up with soil, usually causes contamination of the soil due to substances such as cadmium, lead, and mercury – all contained in some electronic devices.
  • Acid Bath: Activated by applying sulphuric, hydrochloric, or nitric acid solutions to separate metals from the electronic pathways. These acid solutions are highly hazardous and need to be accurately disposed of to prevent contamination of local water sources.
  • Incineration: Burning e-waste produces toxic gasses  and releases them into the atmosphere.
  • Recycling: Dismantling and repurposing components such as precious metals into new products.
  • Reuse: The most environmentally friendly e-waste disposal technique. For example, many functioning tech devices can be given to charity, to be redistributed to those in disadvantaged communities, or can be sold to other markets

Why is e-waste a problem?

According to recent data from The World Counts organization, only 12.5% of e-waste is recycled. This also means that roughly 85% of e-waste is sent to landfills to be buried and to incinerators to be burned, releasing harmful toxins in the soil or the air. All these toxic materials pose serious environmental risks to our soil, water, air, and wildlife.

For more data, please visit The World Counts’ website here.

What is the EU policy on e-waste?

In March 2020, the European Commission presented a new circular economy action plan that has as one of its priorities the reduction of electronic and electrical waste.

As a matter of fact, according to the European Union’s dedicated e-waste page, one of the biggest initiatives will be to make USB Type-C the common charger for all electronic devices in the EU by the end of 2024. In addition to this, all laptops will need to be equipped with a USB Type-C port by April 28, 2026.

E-waste disposal methods

Although the responsibility is mainly on the manufacturers and distributors, end users can follow some key rules in helping the balance between recycling and disposal of e-waste. One of the best ways for a consumer to sustainably get rid of their e-waste is by reselling, donating, or repurposing it.

What are 3 examples of e-waste?

There are at least three main types of e-waste.:

  • Type 1 – Large household appliances (such as washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, etc.), make up 52.7% of the total collected e-waste in Europe in 2020.
  • Type 2 – Small household appliances (such as vacuum cleaners, irons, blenders, etc.), make up 10.1% of the total.
  • Type 3 – Computer and telecommunication appliances (such as laptops, monitors, telephones, mobile phones, etc.), make up 14.1% of the total.

E-waste does not only include broken and damaged devices, but also those that are seen as obsolete due to their fast-changing industry/reduced lifespan.
For more data, please visit the European Parliament’s website here.

How do I dispose of a monitor?

Monitors should not be disposed of in the waste bin and should be recycled at certified recycling points and centers. MMD has thereby collaborations with recycling schemes in many countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. 

In terms of what MMD does to help fix this global e-waste problem, they have launched many initiatives. These are, but not limited to the Closing The Loop project and building sustainable monitor solutions. By changing the problem at the source (manufacturing) and helping fix the problem at the end of a monitor’s life (hence closing the loop), MMD is helping to reduce the impact of e-waste and initiate safer disposal methods.

For more information on the Closing the Loop project, please click here.

For more information on Philips’ green monitor solutions, kindly see the product page here.  

All in all, the lack of disposal methods for e-waste is a global problem. However, new initiatives like MMD’s Closing the Loop Project or the EU’s efforts to limit chargers can make a great impact and move us forward to a more sustainable world.