Global Threats,  Health,  Toxic Exposure

Electronic Waste and the Global Toxic Trade

By The Editors

Here we go with another major source of pollution and serious negative health effects: e-waste, which-stands for electronic waste – also called e-scrap.  Electronic waste may be defined as discarded computers (desktop, laptop, computer monitors, etc.), office electronic equipment (printers, scanners, fax machines, etc.), entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, television sets, refrigerators, and more. To make things easier and avoid long lists, we can safely say that e-waste is about anything that works with a cord or a battery — or it’s connected to something with a cord or battery (think for example computer mice, or keyboards).

As technology changes come by very rapidly in great acceleration-style, the amount of obsolete and discarded high tech material also grows, great acceleration-style, around the world.  Most of it ends up in landfills or inciniretors along with all the very toxic stuff it contains: lead, cadmium, beriyllium, or brominated flame retardanta.  It would be nice to think “recycle”.  However, dropping off e-waste for recycling does not guarantee safe disposal.  It may likely end up in China. India or parts of Africa, where it is used to extract the metals contained in it under extremely hazardous conditions, thus becoming a major source of environmental contamination and a serious threat to human health.  Below you can see the global e-waste trail clearly summarized by Greenpeace International.


Leyla Acaroglu, a sustainability strategist based in Melbourne, Australia, wrote at the beginning of this month in the Opinion Pages of the New York Times Sunday Review that in Ghana, India and China “Children pile e-waste into giant mountains and burn it so they can extract the metals — copper wires, gold and silver threads — inside, which they sell to recycling merchants for only a few dollars.” And “In India, young boys smash computer batteries with mallets to recover cadmium, toxic flecks of which cover their hands and feet as they work. Women spend their days bent over baths of hot lead, “cooking” circuit boards so they can remove slivers of gold inside.”

Below is one of the “must-see” videos. – this is about Ghana, defined as an electronic wasteland.

It might take eons of time to sort these problems out, but in the mean time make sure to recycle your e-waste, and recycle all of it through an e-Stewards® Recycler.

As stated in the e-Stewards Initiative website “Without appropriate national and international legislation or enforcement in place in many regions, it is unfortunately left up to individual citizens, corporations, universities, cities – all of us – to figure out how to prevent the toxic materials in electronics from continuing to cause long term harm to human health and the environment, particularly in countries with developing economies.”

There is a carbon footprint, a plastic footprint, a foodprint – what about an e-footprint? It’s already there, albeit not officially named yet…..


  • Norman Stokes

    Thank you for your information regarding Electronic Waste and the Global Toxic Trade. After reading it I liked the way to write on such a topic. It is not so easy to write in this impressive way. Thanks again!

  • Nadouna

    It’s really sad to know most of the electronic wastes from the US and Europe ends up in Africa and Asia. I was really surprised to see the video above with Ghana being an electric waste land when people in Ghana aren’t the ones using all of these electronics. Our society in America is all about having the latest phone, laptop, and etc. You can find a kid in elementary school having the latest iPhones and iPads. Recycling electronics is a good way to prevent electronic pollution because it’s really sad that women in India spend their days bent over baths of hot lead, “cooking” circuit boards so they can remove slivers of gold inside.I usually give my friends and family members the electronics that I don’t use anymore.

  • ErinnGoBragh

    The company Creative Recycling has a “no landfill policy” and is committed to having no adverse impact on the earth. It was founded in the 90s to keep the toxic heavy metals found in electronics out of landfills.
    For those of you living in Atlanta, you can drop off your unwanted electronics with Creative Recycling at The Walden School in the Old Fourth Ward (320 Irwin St. Atlanta, GA 30312) the second Saturday of each month 10:00am-3:00pm.

    • Haley M

      It is very sad that, once again, things we take for granted such as electronics can have such an adverse affect on human health due to improper disposal. Thanks for this info about Creative recycling. I at least get a new cell phone every two years and most of the time I keep the old phone as a back up device. Now, I can refer others to this location so they can discard of their electronics properly. There should be more companies and several locations for metal recycling such as Creative Recycling.

  • Robbie A

    There is a very interesting infographic about e-waste made available by fonebank. Among the many factoids (please note: these are factoids) in the infographic are: 17,000 tons of e-waste are thrown away or recycled every day; 130 million cell phones are tossed in the trash annually in the U.S.; and 1 million recycled mobile phones can yield 24 kilograms of gold and 250 kilograms of silver. You can find the infographic here:

  • Jbruno1

    Wow! I was astonished looking at all the details. I believe the next major problem will in fact be due to electronic waste. Being in the technological age, we are constantly trying to improvr and better enhanced everythin to the nrxt level. As of now our aim has no bound and genius ideas continue to come forth. Albeit, with all of the ideas come a great cost that we fail to recognize. Until a more concrete initiative is put forward and properly enforced we will continue to see these landfills and carcinogenic effects target everyone.

  • Alejaaa21

    In today’s generation kids want to have the best technology out there may it be the latest IPod or iPhone it really doesn’t matter as long as they’ve got it. I form part of the third largest age group around the world from ages 15-24 as noted by the website. But I would have thought that maybe electronic waste continues to grow because of the demand of new products from the younger generation, but that may not be the case at all. The actual largest age group is from 25-54 years, so are they contributing more to the growth of electronic waste? I never took the time to think about where all of the trash actually goes besides landfills, it goes to third world countries that recycle the garbage and extract what metals are needed to make a living. Not only is the extraction of metals dangerous but it only suits to provide hard labor with a very low selling rate to these people who choose to take on these jobs. It isn’t fair to these people to have to live with out e-waste.

  • cns2392

    As Americans, we often think having the latest and greatest in technological advances is a necessity. And as Americans, that makes us quite narrow minded. When you surround yourself with like people, it is not as evident, but according to 100 People: A World Portrait (, if the world consisted of 100 people, only 22 would own OR share a computer. In perspective, that is 22% of the world would own a computer, a simple computer, not the latest and greatest. So with statistics like these, e-waste should not even exist! Donate what you do not use or no longer need. There are always people in your very own community that go without items some of us cannot fathom going a day without.

    • bcastro3

      Ive had 3 laptops and probably 4 or 5 phones in the past 5-6 years and I never really think about recycling when it comes to laptops because I have always passed them down to a friend or a family member. Thinking about it now, people update the electronic devices in order to have the “coolest” or most popular item in the market meaning all those electronics are being disposed off. Like the article states, many of the items end up in landfill where people are exposed to toxins that affect their health and the environment. There should be more education and it should be better advertised when it comes to recycling electronics. However, I do believe some companies are trying to make a difference by buying back old phones and recycling them and even paying the customer for doing so. Although the consumer doesn’t really know where the electronics are going to be recycled its sort of an insinitive to recycle electronics.

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