Open In App

E-Waste: Causes and Effects on Environment

Last Updated : 19 May, 2023
Like Article

E-waste or Electronic pollution is a growing environmental issue as the rapid advancement of technology has led to a significant increase in the production of various electronic devices. Pollution is the presence of harmful substances in the environment that causes an adverse effect and as a result, degrades the quality of the environment. Improper disposal of E-waste can lead to harmful effects on Human health and the overall environment.

Types of Pollution

  1. Air Pollution: Air pollution is caused due to the emission of toxic and harmful substances into the air that adversely affects human health and the environment. 
  2. Water Pollution: Water Pollution occurs when harmful chemicals, waste, and sewage water are sent directly into the water bodies that adversely affect the aquatic living and living beings consuming that polluted water. 
  3. Noise Pollution: Noise Pollution occurs when unwanted and louder noise is created by the activities such as industrial processes, and transposition construction and causes harm to the physical and mental health of all living beings. 
  4. Soil Pollution: Soil Pollution occurs when heavy metals, chemicals, and pesticides are mixed up in the soil and degrade the quality of the soil.
  5. E-Waste Pollution: E-waste pollution occurs when electronic devices that are discarded or not in use are dumped which as a result harms the natural environment. 

What is E-Waste?

E-waste stands for electronic waste which is defined as electronic devices that are discarded such as computers, TVs, smartphones, and other electronic equipment. E-waste elements contain toxic substances such as mercury, beryllium, lead, and cadmium. These substances if released by any means cause harmful effects on the health of living beings. The generation of e-waste data has increased due to the rapid growth in technology and electronic devices for its use. E-waste data is difficult to manage and must be disposed of safely. 

What is E-Waste Pollution?

E-waste stands for electronic waste which is defined as electronic devices that are discarded such as computers, TVs, smartphones, and other electronic equipment. E-waste pollution is defined as harmful environmental impact due to the improper disposal, recycling, and management of electronic waste.

Toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium are released into the environment when electronic devices or waste is not properly disposed of, reused, or recycled. The release of these toxic chemicals results in soil, water, and air pollution. In today’s modern and technological era, over 50 million metric tons of electronic waste are being generated every year in the world. Therefore there is a need for proper management and disposal of electronic waste generated.

Causes of E-Waste Pollution

  1. Rapid Innovation in Technology: Today one of the main causes of E-waste pollution is the rapid increase in the development of technology. Due to the increase in technological and industrial demand new electronic devices have developed that result in unwanted and unused devices. These unused devices are not used and properly disposed of which leads to e-waste pollution. 
  2. Rising demand for electronic products: Nowadays every work is carried out digitally and every digital user needs an electronic device which results in a rise in demand for electronic devices. The rise in new electronic products indirectly leads to an increase in e-waste pollution. 
  3. Lack of Reparability:  Electronic devices go through many damages and breaks. The device becomes of no use in the future if not repaired or not replaced by the new one.  The devices that are not reparable need to be changed with new ones. This property of lack of reparability results in e-waste pollution. 
  4. Illegal E-waste Trade: Illegal trade of e-waste is increasing e-waste pollution. Many business companies and traders export and import e-waste from and to the countries and the same e-waste is being reused and recycled again by using unsafe and illegal processes.  
  5. Lack of Awareness: Many citizens using electronic products are still not aware and well-educated regarding the harmful impacts of e-waste. The uneducated or unaware users do not dispose of them properly and carefully which then leads to many environmental and health-related problems.

Electronic Gadgets that cause E-waste

E-waste pollution is caused due to improper disposal and recycling of electronic gadgets such as:

  • Smartphones 
  • Computers and Laptops 
  • Printers 
  • Televisions 
  • Peripheral devices such as mouse, keyboards 
  • Speakers and headphones 
  • Electronic toys 
  • Batteries and cells 
  • Washing machines, Refrigerators 
  • MRI Scanners and X-ray machines 
  • Cameras 
  • Pendrives and DVDs 
  • Chargers

Harmful Effects of E-waste

  1. Soil Pollution: All electronic waste contains heavy and harmful metals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic. If this electronic waste is decomposed or disposed of into the soil it can contaminate and degrade the soil, affect adversely plant lifecycle and growth, reduce crop yield, and contaminate the food produced by the plants.  
  2. Water Pollution: The toxic elements that are present in electronic devices can contaminate the water. This can adversely affect aquatic life and water resources, human life can be in danger if such contaminated water is used for drinking and cooking purposes.  
  3. Air Pollution: Many harmful gases are released into the air during the disposal of electronic waste and recycling it. These harmful gases that are released increase air pollution and contamination of the air. Inhalation of such contaminated air can result in respiratory disorders for all living beings.  
  4. Health Effects: Coming in contact with e-waste disposal and exposure to it can cause serious health issues for all living beings. This e-waste can cause diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders, reproductive problems, skin irritation, and many more. 
  5. Climate Change: E-waste pollution also affects the environment which affects the climatic conditions and the environmental life cycle that results in ozone layer depletion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Ways to Control E-waste Pollution

  1. Reduce and Reuse: The most effective and easiest way is to reduce and reuse. This can include reducing the purchase of non-usable electronic devices and gadgets. Reducing and reusing can be achieved by repairing the existing devices instead of purchasing new ones and donating the previously used ones to someone who needs it rather than disposing of it.
  2. Recycling: Recycling is another way of reducing e-waste pollution. Electronic devices contain many other materials that can be used later on. Proper Recycling of electronic devices ensures that no toxic chemicals are emitted into the environment.
  3. E-waste Collection Drives: E-waste collection drives can be arranged by organizations and governments in order to properly dispose of their electronic waste gadgets. The collection of proper e-waste can reduce e-waste pollution so that it can be reused and recycled properly.
  4. Regulations and Policies: Government should apply strict regulations and laws for the management of e-waste that is generated. Government can take many initiatives for proper disposal.  

E-waste and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The Agenda of 2030 for sustainable development, the Sustainable Development Goals was adopted in September 2015.  This agenda consisted of 17 goals and 168 targets that are to be accomplished by 2030 in order to protect the environment and end poverty. Due to the increasing E-waste pollution and its adverse effects, there came a need for this agenda. For this initiative of sustainable development, efficient and coordinated action and approach is being required and are carried by the UN system in order to support other countries for the proper management of E-waste. The target goals of this agenda are as follows: 

  1. SDG Target 3.9: To reduce the number of deaths and viruses from soil, noise, air, water, and e-waste pollution. E-waste that is generated consists of hazardous chemical substances and if these substances are not properly disposed of it can adversely affect natural life.  
  2. SDG Target 8.3: To promote the policies that lead to decent job creation, entrepreneurship opportunities, growth, and development of citizens that results in economic growth. Employment can be provided to citizens by providing the opportunity to manage the e-waste and its proper decomposition. 
  3. SDG Target 8.8: Target 8.8 states the protection of the rights of all workers and laborers. This can protect the rights of women workers and migrant workers too. 
  4. SDG Target 12.4: SDG Target 12.4 states to achieve proper management of chemicals and the waste that is being generated throughout its life cycle and accordingly reduce the harmful effects caused due to electronic waste by 2020.
  5.  SDG Target 12.5: SDG Target 12.5 states that by 2030, reduce the waste that is generated by its reduction, repair, prevention, recycling, and reuse. Reuse and recycle can be achieved by the manufacturers by utilizing the waste generated and reusing the same for other purposes. 

Important International Agreements on E-Waste Management

1. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) (73/78/97):

With the 6annexes, MARPOL states about the oil pollution from the ships, noxious liquid substances, and other harmful substances that are being carried out by the seaway lead to air and water pollution. MARPOL has therefore contributed in order to decrease the pollution caused by international shipping and it applies to 99% of the merchants around the world.

2. Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (1989): 
The aim of the Basel Convention is to protect the health and environment from the harmful effects of hazardous waste. The key elements of the Basel Convention consist of proper sound management, proper disposal of waste, and reducing the harmful effects on human health and environmental conditions. 

3. Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances (1989): 
Montreal Protocol is an international treaty, where the main aim is to protect the depletion of ozone layer due to the emission of toxic substances such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons. 

4. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Council Decision Waste Agreement (1992): 
The Council Decision Waste Agreement aims to control and reduce the waste that is being exported for the purpose of any other material recovery. In order to reduce the harmful effects caused by such transboundary movement of hazardous waste this initiative was undertaken.  

5. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (1994): 
In order to convert from toxic generated by e-waste to green initiatives, UNFCCC has always been actively participating. In this initiative, waste pickers from various parts of the country are being trained about the proper collection of electronic waste products such as computers, batteries, and mobile phones for their proper recycling and disposal. 

E-Waste Management Rules 2016

  1. In the E-waste Management Rules the Manufacturer, dealer Refurbisher and Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) are introduced as additional stakeholders.  
  2. The approach of collection mechanism is adopted in order to include the collection center, collection point, and take back system. 
  3. In order to ensure efficient channelization the option is being given for setting up e-waste exchange, e-retailer, and PRO. 
  4. The facility of e-waste exchange is being provided as an independent market service that provides the sale and purchase of e-waste.  
  5. The collection of e-waste generated during the production of electronic equipment is also the responsibility of the Manufacturer. 
  6. If on behalf of the producer, the dealer has been given the responsibility for the collection of E-waste the dealer must be provided with the collection box and then channel that to the producer. 
  7. The e-waste that is generated by the process of refurbishing must be collected by Refurbisher and then given for proper recycling of waste.   
  8. The State government must ensure the safety and health of the workers that are working in dismantling and recycling E-waste. 
  9. The transportation of E-waste must be carried out properly by and the transporter must carry the documents which contain the details of the sender and the receiver. 
  10. The financial penalty is imposed if any damage is caused to the environment or any other body due to improper e-waste management. 


In conclusion, e-waste pollution is a severe problem that requires awareness from both the sides of individual and societal levels. Only by raising awareness about the impacts of e-waste and taking the steps to responsibly dispose of the e-waste, we can help protect the environment and also promote ah living practices.


Question 1: State why it is necessary to properly dispose of the e-waste.


In order to avoid the emition of toxic elements that are released into the environment, the proper disposal of e-waste is necessary. 

Question 2: List the common electronic devices that lead to e-waste pollution.


Electronic devices such as smartphones, computers and televisions mainly contribute to the e-waste pollution.

Question 3: State some common ways of recycling e-waste.


Some common recycling ways of e-waste are mechanical recycling that includes sorting and shredding electronic components, recycling of chemicals.

Question 4: Can e-waste be hazardous to wildlife? Can e-waste be harmful to wildlife too?


Yes, E-waste is even harmful for the wildlife. As the heavy metals and toxic chemicals seeps into the soil and water can lead to environmental pollution and harm to wild life too.

Question 5: List some common methods of disposal for e-waste.


Methods for proper disposal of e-waste includes incineration, recycling and land-filling.

Like Article
Suggest improvement
Share your thoughts in the comments

Similar Reads