What is the benefits of recycling electronics?

Which electronic devices can be recycled

In addition to the environmental and health imperatives associated with the responsible disposal of e-waste, it makes good economic sense. E-waste is another source of base metals and noble metals, making it a valuable commodity. (Photo: Panos/Jacob Silberberg).

Unlike other types of municipal waste, e-waste contains a complex mixture of hazardous and highly toxic materials and economically valuable noble metals. Given that up to 60 elements of the periodic table can be found in complex electronic devices, sophisticated treatment technologies are needed to recover as many of these valuable resources as possible, while minimizing negative social or environmental impacts. This presents challenges for recyclers, but also opportunities.

In order to better understand the technologies available for e-waste recycling and recovery, and as part of its efforts to promote environmentally sound disposal and recycling of e-waste, the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal recently requested WIPO’s support for the preparation of a report analyzing patenting activity in the field of e-waste technologies.


Computer recycling or electronic recycling is the disassembly and separation of components and raw materials from electronic waste. Although reuse, donation and repair procedures are not strictly recycling, these are other common sustainable ways of disposing of IT waste.

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In the world there is a huge population which uses a lot of items such as cell phones, computers, printers, televisions, game machines, which once they are no longer in use because technology companies make these devices stop working so you throw them away and buy a new one; these are often discarded to places in Africa or other remote places where unfortunately people live. Thousands of tons of waste are sent to parts of the world we don’t even know about, and the people who live there risk contaminating themselves and their environment.

The U.S. Congress is considering a number of e-waste bills, including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). Meanwhile, the main federal law governing solid waste is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. It only pertains to CRT monitors, although state regulations may differ. There are also separate laws concerning battery disposal. On March 25, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee approved funding for research on e-waste reduction and environmental impact mitigation, considered by sponsor Ralph Hall (R-TX) to be the first federal bill to handle e-waste directly.

Why recycle e-waste

These data, taken from the reports “Global e-waste study” (conducted by the United Nations University in 2018) and “The Global e-waste Monitor 2017” (disseminated by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of the UN), and endorsed by the map of the StEP initiative (Step e-waste world map) of this same organization, highlight the growing risk to the environment and human health of this type of waste and the need to raise awareness in society about the proper management of technological waste.

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In addition to guaranteeing environmental safety and our health, the recycling of these devices also has economic benefits, since many of the materials they are made of, such as copper, platinum or palladium, are fully recoverable. It is estimated that the value of recycled materials from technological waste amounted to 46 million euros worldwide in 2016, a figure equivalent to the GDP of countries such as Costa Rica or Panama.

Environmental impact of electronic waste

E-waste or electronic scrap refers to waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and is defined as all items of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) that have been discarded by their owner without the intention of reuse (Step Initiative 2014). Other abbreviations for WEEE are WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), waste or e-waste.

The definition of e-waste is very broad and covers 6 categories in which we find a wide range of products, from almost all household items to commercial devices with circuitry, electrical components with power supply or battery supply. Due to this wide range of possibilities, electrical and electronic waste is classified into the following categories:

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E-waste solid waste stream consists of a complex mixture of more than 1000 substances. They contain precious metals, including gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium, as well as base metals such as iron and aluminum, along with plastics, which can be recycled. EEE also contains rare earths and rare and hazardous metals. Common hazardous materials they contain include heavy metals (such as mercury, lead and cadmium) and chemicals (such as CFCs/chlorofluorocarbons or various flame retardants).