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What is e-waste and how does it affect the environment?

What is e-waste and how does it affect the environment?

broken laptop sitting on top of wires and other eWaste

Do you have that drawer at home filled with old phones, charging cables, batteries, and other electricals? You’re not alone! It’s estimated that 40 million unused gadgets are lurking about in our homes in the UK. We instinctively know e-waste has a value because we paid good money for those items. We’re just not quite sure what the value is, or how to release it. The one thing we do know for sure is that it goes against our money-saving fibres just to throw it out! We know you’re wondering, but ‘what is e-waste?’, so let’s get straight into it. 

What is e-waste? 

To put it simply, it is an electrical product that is at the end of its useful life. Reaching the end of a useful life means that you no longer use it, but it can be in perfect working order. It’s more likely that it’s a bit out of fashion or an older model so it’s condemned to the ‘everything’ drawer.  

e-waste can range from anything from a mobile phone to a toastie machine. If it has a charging port, connects to the mains or it charges something (yes including batteries) then it can become e-waste. We know e-waste holds value – it’s why we’re hoarding it in our cupboards. But realistically it needs to be disposed of, although many of us are confused about how. 

E-waste is often made up of materials such as zinc, lead, nickel and flame retardants. This means they’re built to last a long time, and they often create issues when it comes to disposal. When e-waste is warmed up, it creates toxic fumes that harm our atmosphere. When it is sent to landfill, it produces harmful liquids that seep into the ground, affecting land and marine life. It’s a difficult problem to overcome but let’s focus on just how big this issue is. 

You might be thinking that you don’t contribute to e-waste. After all your phone contract is 24 months long, and you haven’t replaced your kettle for 5 years, but the UK is one of the worst countries for creating eWaste. 

How much do we produce? 

The problematic issue of disposing of e-waste is always met with our society’s demand for more. Our need to seek the latest gadgets and renew annually has led to a bigger problem than we may have first realised. As a nation, we produce over 1.45 million tonnes of e-waste every year. That’s the equivalent weight of 3,243 jumbo jets! 

Popular items that are often discarded instead of recycled are small household appliances such as irons, kettles, toasters and vacuum cleaners. In fact, these items, combined with bigger household appliances such as fridges, create 62% of our e-waste. So much for only throwing a kettle out every 5 years! 

We know that not everyone is throwing away a blender after every use. But knowing what to do with it when the time comes, can be the difference between solving and adding to the problem. A problem that we rarely hear about. Which is why it’s not only essential to know what e-waste is, but how it impacts the environment. 

How e-waste affects the environment 

Millions of us know that plastic is harmful, that it can damage wildlife, the environment, and our food supply chain. We’ve been conditioned to use less plastic, choose better options, and dispose of it safely. What if we told you that e-waste can be just as harmful, if not more! 

Plastic bottles can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in landfill. This is devastating enough, but e-waste is not even suitable for landfill. Devices such as mobile phones and laptops are designed to never decompose. The glass in the screens can take as much as a million years to break down.  

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image of two glasses beside kitchen sink

Remember that Nokia 3310 that you threw out 20 years ago? It’s still out there, fully intact, buried under decades of rubbish and mixing with other liquids creating toxic fumes and sludge. 

The question is, what is e-waste doing in our environment right now? How is it still impacting us, and how can we stop it? The good news is that we can control this waste immediately. In some local authorities, e-waste collections are now at the kerbside. Others have plenty of recycling points in nearby shops. If you’re unsure where you can recycle your e-waste, you can find your nearest location in the recycling locator on your member dashboard

We’ll be supplying you with additional tips to minimise your e-waste throughout the month but the first challenge we have for you – empty that drawer and get recycling your e-waste! 

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