According to the UN, 200 million computers and 500 million mobile phones reached their end of life in 2008 alone. As newly industrialised countries such as China and India become increasingly equipped in electrical and electronic products, the generation of e-waste is likely to increase. This is particularly of concern as the majority of e-waste is sent to landfill with little recycled and even less reused. In 2009, just 13% of the 50 million tonnes produced e-waste was recycled.
This industry is characterised by short lifecycles and rapid obsolescence resulting in waste being generated at a rapid rate, much of which ends up in a landfill. Furthermore, poor design of equipment means upgrading is often difficult and costly making simply replacing working equipment a more viable option. This is particularly pertinent due to the high material and energy cost in the production of equipment.
As a result, the adequate treatment of unwanted equipment makes sense from both an environmental and economic perspective. The loss of valuable materials contained within computers is a wasted opportunity. For example, a typical PC includes rare and valuable materials such as gold and platinum. Likewise the dumping of e-waste has environmental and health ramifications as many of the materials used to produce a computer are toxic, such as lead. Other materials such as barium and PVC also have a variety of health impacts.
E-waste can be seen as one of the greatest challenges facing the IT industry due to its impacts on the environment and human health as well as the sheer scale of the problem, which is exacerbated by the difficulty of upgrading equipment. The need to reduce, reuse and recycle is becoming an ever more apparent issue.