Chapter 3 - A Culture of Waste

Part 5: E-Waste

Electronic waste, e-waste, e-scrap, or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is the discarded waste stream of our modern digital lifestyle. Electronic waste is a growing component of our global waste stream. Current estimates put the total e-waste mass in the tens of billions of tons, and it is growing. Presently, UNEP estimates e-waste is 3-4% of the waste stream, however some projections suggest this will grow to 10%. E-waste is recycled in formal and informal operations worldwide and the waste is harvested for its bounty of valuable and semi-valuble metals, salvageable components, and plastics. Informal waste recycling in developing countries is of great concern because of the toxic materials in e-waste and the hazardous operations involved in the salvage.

International actions have included the Basel Ban on export of toxic waste, but the international trade in waste electronics continues, and many areas in the developing world with significant e-waste operations are experiencing impacts to public health and environmental contamination. Mercury, lead, dioxins, and flame retardants have contaminated informal e-waste operations and the workers who labor in the waste of others.




  • Electronic waste
  • E-waste
  • E-scrap
  • Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)
  • E-trade
  • Cyanidation
  • Mercury amalgamation
  • Acid baths
  • Solder cooking
  • Mercury
  • Minamata disease
  • Lead
  • PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)
  • Flame retardants
  • Dioxins (polychlorinated dibenzodioxins)

Suggested Reading

  1. Minimizing Hazardous Wastes: A Simplified Guide to the Basel Convention


Image Source: Cell phone composition. (2006). In UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps and Graphics Library. Retrieved 20:07, July 21, 2011 from