Electronics Waste
Farewell, German radio with your green eye and your bulky box
Together almost composing a body and soul.
. your eye would grow nervous, the green pupil widen and shrink
your old age was announced by a cracked voice,
then rattles, then coughing, and nally blindness (your eye faded), and total silence.
Sleep peacefully, German radio
Adam Zagajewski (1945–)
Electric Elegy
Electronics waste (e-waste) is an inevitable and unavoidable by-product of the current technological
revolution. e-Waste is a collective term, embracing consumer and business appliances, products,
components, and accessories nearing the end of their useful life due to obsolescence, malfunc-
tion, or exhaustion (e.g., batteries). Common examples of e-waste include personal and mainframe
computers, printers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers, and fax machines. There is no standard-
ized denition for e-waste; however, electronics equipment may be dened as those devices whose
primary functions are provided by electronic circuitry and components, that is, semiconductor
devices (integrated circuits, transistors, and diodes), passive components (resistors, capacitors, and
inductors), electro-optical components (cathode ray tubes [CRTs], LEDs, CCDs, lasers, etc.), sen-
sors (transducers and MEM devices), and electronics packaging (printed circuit boards, connec-
tors) (IAER 2002). According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA 2008), Americans
own approximately 24 electronic products per household. Some major categories of electronics
equipment are listed in Table22.1.
e-Waste comprises about 5% of municipal solid waste (MSW) and is one of the fastest growing
fractions of the waste stream (Electronics Takeback Coalition 2011). Today’s computer industry
innovates rapidly, bringing new technologies and “upgrades” to market every 18 months, on aver-
age. The average lifespan of a personal computer is currently 2 years (CAW 2012).
In 2010, the United States disposed 384 million units of e-waste, totaling 2.4 million tons.
Arecent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study estimated that the amount of e-waste
in U.S. landlls will grow fourfold in the next few years (CAW 2012). New products rapidly
heading to the market create additional wasteproblems; for example, the disposable cellular
telephone became available for marketing in the late 1990s. In addition, disposable DVDs made
a brief appearance on the market in the early 2000s.
The issue of how to manage e-waste is a pressing one. Many obsolete and malfunctioning
electronic products can be reused, rebuilt, or recycled. However, electronics that malfunction often
are not repaired due to the relatively low price of replacing them.
Only 600,000 tons or 17.7% of electronics waste was recycled in 2008, according to EPA (up
from 13.6 in 2008). The remainder was either disposed or stockpiled. These data compared with
34% of all MSW recycled. Most were disposed or remain in storage. It is estimated that nearly 75%
of unwanted electronics are in storage, partly because of the uncertainty as to how to manage such
592 Waste Management Practices: Municipal, Hazardous, and Industrial
More than 3.2 million tons of electronics discards is disposed in landlls in the United States
annually (U.S. EPA 2011). It is believed that most households and small businesses disposinge-wastes
opt to send them to landlls or incinerators rather than to recyclers. However, landlling and incin-
eration of e-wastes pose signicant health and environmental hazards.
Obsolete electronic equipment is also a concern because electronics are manufactured using
valuable resources such as precious metals, engineered plastics, and glass. The elemental breakdown
of a personal desktop computer is listed in Table22.2. When electronic equipment is disposed and
new equipment is manufactured in its place, virgin resources are extracted, additional energy is
required, valuable resources are wasted, and air and water pollution are generated.
Several major types of electronic equipment are encountered in the MSW streams in all U.S. states.
These items and their signicance are described below.
Categories of Electronics Equipment
User Application
Consumer Video: televisions, VCRs, camcorders, digital cameras, control boxes
Audio: stereo systems and components, CD players, radios
Communications: cell phones, pagers, PDAs
Personal: computers, printers, calculators
Game systems
Automotive Control systems
Audio systems
Computers and peripheral equipment: CPUs, monitors, printers, scanners, storage devices, servers,
networking systems
Financial systems: retail/check-out, banking/teller, ATMs
Security systems: monitoring and detection equipment
Entertainment: radio, television and movie production equipment, transmission systems, sound and
video projection equipment, amusements
Ofce equipment: copiers, fax machines, imaging systems, printing systems
Industrial Telecommunications equipment: telephones, switching systems, PBXs, transmitters, receivers,
microwave systems
Test and measurement equipment: oscilloscopes, power supplies, signal processors
Medical equipment: EKGs, MRIs, CAT scan, X-ray, monitors
Manufacturing equipment: control systems, data entry devices, workstations, instruments, process tools
Aerospace On-board control systems
Communications systems
Navigation systems
Radar and trafc control systems
In-ight entertainment systems
Military/defense Weapons control systems
Communications systems
Navigational systems
Security systems
Encryption systems
Source: Reproduced with kind permission from IAER, Electronics Equipment, Albany, NY, 2002, Available from: http://

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