This year’s International E-waste Day, launched by the WEEE Forum, wants to highlight the issue of invisible e-waste. Neglected, broken, or simply forgotten appliances may seem harmless tucked away in our garage, closets or drawers. However, they are more than just dormant entities taking up space. These devices can corrode, leak harmful chemicals, and release toxic elements such as mercury and lead into our environment, posing significant risks.
Leaks and seepages from electronics contribute to long-term environmental degradation. Soil and water contamination disrupts the delicate balance of ecosystems, endangers aquatic life, and compromises the quality of agricultural produce. As these forgotten items lie in the shadows, the ripple effect of their silent damage broadens, threatening biodiversity and food security. For example, damaged batteries may leak acid or alkaline, contaminating soil and water. Obsolete electronics may contain harmful elements like mercury, lead, or brominated flame retardants that can seep into the earth.
The repercussions of neglected appliance waste extend beyond environmental concerns. The same chemicals polluting the earth can also pose severe health risks. Batteries might corrode, releasing hazardous chemicals. Or broken LCD screens leak potentially toxic liquid crystals. Or old devices may contain harmful elements like lead, mercury, or cadmium that over time could cause health issues.
Home appliance waste is made of components that contain valuable raw materials. Most of these are located in remote geographical areas and are often scarce in quantity. For this reason, securing access to metals and minerals that are strategic for the production of most electronics has become a global, cross-sectoral concern.
If properly recycled, e-waste would help reintroduce precious raw materials contained in discarded goods back into the economy, reducing the amount of mining and greenhouse gas emissions, while conserving our planet's precious natural resources. When appliances in your home complete their life cycle, they can be rejuvenated by being recycled to recover minerals and materials before being sent back to the manufacturers as secondary raw materials. This tremendously reduces the reliance on primary inputs and helps to stimulate a circular economy.
One electric toothbrush can make the difference. Once collected, electric toothbrushes are dismantled and separated to avoid leakage of dangerous substances. The plastics used in the handle are shredded and melted to produce new toothbrushes, razors or even food storage containers.
Large appliances including dishwashers, washing machines and air conditioners can be taken right away by the shop delivering your brand new appliance, thanks to take-back schemes obligation financed by manufacturers. Small appliances like coffee machines, toothbrushes or toasters, can be brought to container parks, to the shop from which you are buying your new product or to the nearest supermarket. From there, collection networks handle the collected e-waste before shipping it to a recycling centre.
Only around 40 to 50% of all WEEE is properly collected and treated by the systems set up by producers. The rest remains unaccounted for, meaning that many appliances do not reach recycling facilities causing a great loss of potential secondary raw materials across the EU.
All actors involved in the entire chain of collection, transportation, sorting and treatment should contribute to the proper collection, treatment and reporting of discarded EEE. This is something that the WEEE legislation should reflect in a way for all to hold responsibility, based on their actual means of leverage and access to the WEEE generated.
The small, everyday choices we make have a profound impact on the world we live in. By addressing the often-overlooked issue of appliance waste, we can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable environment. This International E-waste Day, let’s pledge to be more mindful of our consumption, disposal, and recycling, ensuring a greener future for all!