Tackling High-Tech Trash: The e-Waste Explosion & What We Can Do

Tackling High-Tech Trash: The e-Waste Explosion & What We Can Do

November 22, 2010
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Amid all the headlines about technological marvels and high-tech business icons, far less attention has been paid to the huge volumes of waste generated by skyrocketing sales and rapid turnover in high-tech electronics.

In contrast to other waste streams such as industrial effluents and air pollution, the rapidly growing electronic waste (e-waste) stream is largely uncontrolled and lightly regulated, relying on a patchwork of corporate "take-back" initiatives, state and local recycling programs, and a handful of (mainly European) e-waste policy directives.

This report assesses the scope of electronics consumption and resulting e-waste, the unique challenges policymakers face in handling this kind of waste, and steps we must take to gain control of the problem.

This report assesses the scope of electronics consumption and resulting e-waste, the unique challenges policy- makers face in handling this kind of waste, and steps we must take to gain control of the problem. Key aspects of the problem examined in this report include:

  • Short product life-spans—the commercial and technological origins of rapid turnover in consumer electronics.
  • The mounting scope of electronic waste—the downside of the surging worldwide electronics market.
  • The major challenges of e-waste, including design and materials complexity, global supply chains, and unregulated recycling and e-scrap markets.
  • The adverse health and environmental impacts of unregulated e-waste disposal, materials salvage, and recycling-for-reuse.
  • Recent developments in e-waste export rules, private and public recycling initiatives, and green design and materials regulation to extend product life-spans and reduce overall toxicity.
  • Assessing challenges to a more integrated life-cycle approach to electronics design, production, and recycling, with recommendations for specific policies to push for in the near term.