Breakdown of electronic and electrical waste in European Union
All electrical and electronic devices, even everyday household items such as calculators, toasters and toys, have the potential to become e-waste.
Much of this waste is prized for its scrap value, especially circuit boards which contain small but significant amounts of gold, silver, copper and other valuable elements.
However, safe retrieval requires specialised – and therefore expensive – recycling processes which are not readily available in developing countries.
If e-waste is not properly processed, there is a risk of toxic contamination for people and the environment from:
- Substances contained within the items themselves, for example lead in solders or mercury in backlights for liquid crystal screens.
- Toxic emissions created when the items are improperly treated, such as dioxins formed by incineration of flame retardant plastics
- Hazardous agents such as cyanide used for leaching during “backyard recycling”