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Electronic Waste

You are currently viewing a revision titled "Electronic Waste", saved on November 7, 2013 at 7:00 am by Wolfgang Höschele
Electronic Waste

Context within NORA

Relationships to needs

Electronics produce a lot of waste across a wide variety of mediums. The typical computer will produce a lot of waste metals (of varying characteristics), rubber, glass, and plastics.

Relationships to other resources

  • Unsafe disposal of e-waste can lead to the pollution of land, air, and water, as well as taking up more space in landfills.
  • Recycling materials will decrease demand for new materials to be produced.
    • Even if demand remains constant, overall price for certain materials will go down due to more of it being available

Relationships to orginizational forms

Electronic waste recycling most obviously ties into natural resource management clusters. Assuming proper disposal of even a fraction of generated waste, space in landfills needed would decrease, resulting in a net decrease of land required for the landfills in the first place, resulting in more room for other endeavors.

If recycled properly, the disposal will also prevent harmful substances and metals from leeching into the soil, air, and water, mitigating contamination that would otherwise occur.

Recycling of electronic waste also ties directly into currencies and markets. The recycling of high value and rare materials will put them back into the market, lowering the steady rise in price as supply drops. Also, recycling the resource will require less of it be produced, cutting down on mining and manufacturing that would need to be done.

Current disposal


E-waste is often carted over to Ghana for incredibly low prices by many companies. In Ghana, it is usually dumped into huge scrapyards that completely lack any sort of protection, causing harmful components like mercury, brominated fire retardants, and lead to leak into the soil and water.

In the scrapyard, workers with little pay and less protection search for the valuable components among the junk, prying the electronics open for valuable metals. What rubber and plastic remains is either dumped into a landfill, which pollutes the soil and water, or simply burned, which pollutes the air.


Guiyu, a city in southern China, is home to a similar situation as Ghana's, on a far greater scale. Referred to as the "E-Waste Capital of the World," Guiyu employs well over 150,000 workers that pick through scrapyards and dumps for cables, chips, boards, cases, and batteries for reprocessing. Like in Ghana, there is rampant uncontrolled burning, grinding of plastics, and disposal that causes much pollution, leading to severe local health problems, especially lead poisoning.


The EPA currently maintains a database of locations per state where electronics can be donated and recycled.


Rather than buying a new product, consider:

  • Replacing one component or the software
  • Buy every other new model, rather than every single new model


Phonebloks is a project to create a phone that is modular, not unlike computers or laptops. The core of the phone is simply a circuit board with a touch screen; the rest of the functionality comes in a diverse collection of 'bloks' that are attached to the back and secured with a panel. Every bit of hardware is customizable, from the screen and internal memory to a camera or microphone. Most of the bloks would be user-contributed by various startups in addition to established brands. Very little hardware would be replaced, on a very seldom basis.


  • United Nations. United Nations Environmental Programme. Recycling - From E-waste to Resources. New York: United Nations, 2009. Print. Hyperlink.
  • Carroll, Chris. "High-Tech Trash." National Geographic January 2008. Print. Hyperlink.
  • "Poisoning the poor - Electronic Waste in Ghana ." Greenpeace. Greenpeace International, n.p. Web. 5 Aug. 2008. Hyperlink.
  • "Exporting Harm - The High-Tech Trashing of Asia." The Basel Action Network, n.p. Web. 25 Feb 2002. Hyperlink.
  • EPA directory on eCycling
  • Phonebloks

Old New Date Created Author Actions
May 6, 2014 at 2:54 am Wolfgang Höschele
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