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The Issue

Electronic waste, or e-waste, represents one of the most rapidly expanding environmental hazards globally, with an estimated 53.6 million metric tons generated in 2019 alone. This figure is projected to grow exponentially, fueled by increasing consumption and the short lifespans of electronic devices. E-waste not only clutters landfills but also releases harmful toxins like lead, mercury, and cadmium into the environment, which can contaminate soil and water sources and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Poorly managed e-waste is particularly concerning because it often ends up in developing countries, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities with inadequate recycling facilities. The improper handling and disposal of e-waste pose significant challenges to climate change mitigation efforts, emphasizing the urgent need for innovative and sustainable management strategies to prevent environmental degradation and promote circular economy practices in technology use.


Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground — This documentary investigates the illegal dumping of electronic waste in Ghana, revealing the environmental and health hazards faced by local communities.

Toxic City: The Cost of Gold Mining in South Africa — The article examines how discarded electronics are informally recycled in South Africa, posing severe health risks to workers and communities.

High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health — This book delves into the toxic legacies of electronic waste, focusing on how the poorest regions are becoming dumping grounds for the developed world’s e-waste.

Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade — This book provides an insight into the global trash trade, with a significant emphasis on electronic waste and its consequences in the global south.

The E-waste Tragedy — A hard-hitting look at the global electronic waste crisis, focusing on how much of the developed world’s e-waste ends up in Africa and Asia, where it is poorly recycled.

Recycling Chaos — This episode from the NPR series explores the chaos in the recycling industry due to e-waste, particularly focusing on its routing to and effects on countries in the global south.

E-WASTE EMPIRE — Follows the journey of electronic waste in New York City, from consumer purchase to its final destination in shredding facilities, revealing the complexities and challenges of recycling in the face of rapid technological turnover and regulatory inconsistencies.

Waste Crime - Waste Risks: Gaps in Meeting the Global Waste Challenge — United Nations Environment Programme report details how illegal dumping of e-waste in countries like Nigeria and China poses severe risks to health and the environment.

Facing a growing e-waste problem — This online documentary by Al Jazeera explores the severe impact of e-waste on Ghana, showing the life cycle of electronics and their final dumping grounds.

The World’s E-Waste Is a Huge Problem. It’s Also a Golden Opportunity — The World Economic Forum dives into the complexities of e-waste recycling and the economic opportunities it presents, particularly in the Global South.

Key Words and Concepts to Know

Waste Colonialism Waste colonialism refers to the practice of developed countries exporting their electronic waste to less developed nations, exploiting weaker environmental regulations and imposing health and ecological burdens on poorer populations.

Digital Divide The digital divide describes the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology, and those that don't. This concept also covers the inequality in electronic waste generation and management between these groups.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Extended Producer Responsibility is a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility—financial and/or physical—for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products. Assigning such responsibility could incentivize producers to design products with fewer harmful substances and enhanced recyclability.

Toxic Exports Toxic exports refer to the transfer of hazardous waste, including e-waste, from developed to developing countries. This practice often results in severe environmental degradation and health risks for the receiving communities.

Resource Recovery Resource recovery is the process of extracting useful materials or energy resources from waste. In the context of e-waste, it involves reclaiming valuable metals like gold, silver, and copper, which reduces the need to mine raw materials, thereby lessening environmental impact.

Planned Obsolescence Planned obsolescence is a business strategy in which the obsolescence (the point at which a product becomes outdated or no longer useful) of a product is planned and built into it from its conception. This is a common practice in electronics manufacturing, leading to increased e-waste generation.

Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) EPEAT is a system that helps purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare, and select electronic products based on their environmental attributes. Products are rated on factors like energy consumption and recyclability.

Green Computing Green computing involves practices and strategies designed to improve the energy efficiency of computing devices and reduce their environmental impact. This includes manufacturing, usage, and disposal phases to minimize the overall ecological footprint.

Environmental Racism Environmental racism refers to the way in which minority group neighborhoods (populated primarily by people of color and the economically disadvantaged) are burdened with a disproportionate number of hazards, including toxic waste facilities, garbage dumps, and other sources of environmental pollution like e-waste.

Zero Waste Policy Zero waste policy is an approach that focuses on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators, or the ocean. In the context of e-waste, this involves designing electronics and systems to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

Take Action

Take a stand on e-waste management with our automated email tool. Engaging directly with decision-makers is crucial to amplify your voice. Personalize your message by adding your information to the form below—customize it for a specific campaign or keep it general for use across multiple initiatives. Don't forget to fill out the "write an opener" section to ensure your email stands out and avoids filters. Stay tuned for more email templates coming soon.

This email outlines a series of proposals addressed to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging them to implement more stringent and effective policies for managing electronic waste (e-waste). The suggestions include strengthening export regulations to prevent dumping in the Global South, expanding producer responsibility, enhancing research and public awareness, and promoting international collaboration for global e-waste standards. These recommendations aim to address the environmental, health, and ethical issues associated with e-waste, emphasizing the need for immediate action to improve e-waste management practices both domestically and internationally.

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