40 shocking facts about how electronics negatively impact our planet


06 Jan 2022

Electronics have become the vessel of modern-day technological advancements, redefining many aspects of our everyday lives. However, electronics have a powerful impact on our planet, the environment and global warming. Read on to find out how technological devices negatively impact our planet.

What is e-waste?

Electronic waste (e-waste) refers to any electrical equipment or electronic device that has been discarded and becomes a source of waste.

Impacts of electronics on the environment:

1. The mining of metals for electronic devices is the main cause of ecological damage

Precious metals including gold and silver are used in the manufacturing process of electronic devices.

Metals are heavily used in electronic devices, and mining of these metals causes large-scale ecological damage, ranging from the deforestation of the Amazon to the generation of toxic waste by gold extraction.

2. About 320 tonnes of gold and 7500 tonnes of silver are annually used for the production of electronic devices.

Extracting these precious metals results in large-scale damage to the environment. When these precious metals are left as unprocessed e-waste after an electronic device is discarded, they can become an environmental hazard.

3. Smartphone manufacturing will result in the depletion of some natural resources within the next 50 years.

Rare earth elements are a limited resource that is heavily used in the manufacturing of smartphones, however, the growing demand for their use cannot be sustained as they are a finite resource. The manufacturing of smartphones continues to result in natural resource depletion.

4. According to the UN, it requires 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 1,500 kilograms of water to produce an average computer and monitor. 

Many valuable resources are used in the manufacture of technology. The production of an average computer and monitor requires 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 1,500 kilograms of water.

5. On average, one smartphone is discarded after two years of use.

The extent of smartphone demand and use is evident as one smartphone is used for an average of two years, leading to a market of 1.5 billion smartphones sold annually. This expectedly creates a large amount of electronic waste, which burdens the environment.

6. E-waste makes up about 70% of overall toxic waste

Electronic waste makes up a large percentage of overall toxic waste in our environment, this is alarming as toxic waste has harmful effects on the environment and atmosphere when it is left unprocessed.

7. Global e-waste is projected to grow between 4 to 5% annually, exceeding 50 million tonnes in 2020

The increase in production and consumption of technology predicts that global e-waste is expected to increase between 4-5% each year, such that it is expected to exceed 50 million tonnes in 2020.

8. 70% of the world’s e-waste is discarded in Guiyu, China. 

A large amount of the world’s e-waste is discarded in developing countries, which do not have formal recycling facilities with the necessary protection for the workers. This results in only 17.4% of e-waste getting recycled.

9. 160,000 laptops are discarded daily across the EU. 

Many valuable natural resources and rare earth metals are used in the manufacturing of laptops. However, in the EU, 160,000 laptops are discarded every day. This contributes to the production of electronic waste.

10. High concentrations of PBDE, between 82,207 to 188,118 tonnes per year, are released into the atmosphere, creating harmful health risks. 

PBDE stands for polybrominated diphenyl ethers. These are the toxins that are released when electronics are incinerated. Mass emissions create serious health risks for all organisms and are a threat to the environment.

11. E-waste areas have heavily contaminated soil

Research has proven that the soil in areas with discarded e-waste is contaminated by heavy metals and organic compounds, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polybrominated diphenyl (PBDEs). It has further been proven that these contaminants can leak into the food chain, and then transfer onto residents in the areas, effectively threatening the health of the population residing there.

12. Global e-waste will reach 74 million tonnes by 2030, effectively doubling in 16 years. 

A report by the Global E-waste Monitor predicts that global e-waste will double in just 16 years, reaching 74 million tonnes in 2020. This poses a growing challenge and needs for efforts to safely and efficiently manage and recycle large amounts of waste.

13. In India, phones make up the largest chuck of 2 million tonnes of e-waste.

India, which is the second largest smart phone market after China, has about 650 million mobile users. The massive usage and consumption of smart phones has consequently led to a dramatic growth in e-waste as 40% of mobile users replace their smart phones in less than a year. Toxics Link, an environmental NGO based in India, reports that smart phones are by far the biggest contributors of e-waste.

14. E-waste is the fastest-growing source of waste in the world. 

A 2019 report from the World Economic Forum cites e-waste as the fastest-growing source of waste in the world, creating increasing challenges to the efforts to protect the environment against the effects of e-waste pollution.

15. Asia is the largest producer of e-waste worldwide, followed by Europe and North America.

Asia is the largest producer of e-waste worldwide, accounting for 40.7% of the total waste. This is followed by Europe and then North America. However, Europe accounts for the most kilograms of e-waste produced per person at an average of 15.6 kg, compared to Asia’s 3.7 kg.

16. In 2014, Norway was the largest producer of per-capita e-waste with about 28.3 kg, followed by Switzerland (26.3 kg), Iceland (26.1 kg) and Denmark (24.0 kg). 

In 2014, European countries accounted for the most per-capita e-waste, which accounts for a large percentage of the overall e-waste produced worldwide. Coupled with a fast-growing population, and a fast-changing technological landscape, this looks to become a severe problem in the coming future.

17. Only one-fifth of the total global e-waste is recycled. 

It is estimated that there lies a large amount of potential value in e-waste; however, only one-fifth of it is recycled globally. When e-waste is not recycled and instead left unprocessed, it amounts to growing concerns for the safety of the environment.

18. The Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 have aggravated e-waste production. 

Due to the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, there have been larger amounts of electronic devices discarded, and this poses a large problem as the restrictions have delayed the recycling processes. Fewer workers are able to collect and recycle the waste.

19. Difficult-to-recycle plastics constitute about 20% of e-waste. 

About 20% of total e-waste is constituted by plastic, which poses a growing challenge to the recycling process. Plastic components are commonly found in computer mouldings and cablings. When these plastic components are burned, toxic chemicals known as dioxins are emitted into the air, which has been linked to cancer, developmental defects and other health problems.

20. More than 1000 different substances, most of which are toxic, are found in e-waste. 

There are many materials that are used in the production of devices and electronics, 70% of which are heavy metals found in soil, and have an electronic origin. Additionally, cadmium, chromium, antimony, mercury, and brominated flame retardants create severe environmental health concerns.

21. E-waste pollution is a water contaminant.

When e-waste is left unprocessed, it severely contaminates soil, leaking into groundwater and then into other water bodies. This makes the water toxic for living beings and threatens the preservation of the ecosystem and biodiversity.

22. E-waste is shortening the life expectancy in developing countries. 

In developing countries, unprocessed e-waste is the main cause of harmful health risks, and more than 200 million people worldwide are at risk of developing diseases due to toxic e-waste. This number is likely to increase with the increase of the world population and subsequent e-waste production.

23. Large amounts of precious metals lie unrecovered in e-waste. 

It is estimated that approximately 380 tonnes of gold, 4000 tonnes of silver and 200,000 tonnes of copper remain unrecovered in used phones worldwide. This is millions of dollars worth of precious metals which can go on to damage the environment when they are left unprocessed.

24. E-waste discarded into landfills increases exposure to environmental toxins, resulting in higher risks of cancer, as well as developmental and neurological disorders.

The improper and unregulated disposal of large quantities of e-waste in landfills can cause an array of dangerous health risks and hazards. It also causes severe damages to the environment and the ecosystem.

25. In 2019, an estimated $10 billion worth of precious metals lie unrecovered in e-waste. 

Valuable precious metals such as gold and copper lie unrecovered as unprocessed e-waste, and in 2019 these were estimated to be worth $57 billion. When these are not retrieved, they lie as a waste of natural resources in the environment contributing to toxic waste pollution.

26. The United States is the largest producer of e-waste annually compared to every other country.

In one year the United States produces the most electronic waste compared to every other country, which amounts to a total of approximately 9.4 million tonnes of e-waste. It is also the fastest-growing source of waste in the US.

27. There are more devices connected to the internet than people on earth. 

The UN has reported that in 2020, an estimated 25-50 billion devices will be connected to the internet, which by far exceed the number of humans on earth. The growing need for technological devices creates competing sources of e-waste, which burden the environment.

28. By 2050, we would reach 120 million tonnes of electronic waste.

It is estimated that by 2050, we would reach about 120 million tonnes of electronic waste if there hasn’t been an increase in recycling initiatives. Such large amounts of electronic waste are a danger to the environment.

29. Only 5% of lithium batteries are recycled in the EU. 

Lithium batteries are a main component of smartphones. However, in the European Union, only 5% of these batteries are recycled. These batteries are toxic for the environment as they become poisonous when they are left unprocessed.

30. Less than half of the countries in the world have laws regulating the disposal of e-waste. 

While all countries are responsible for producing e-waste globally, only about 67 countries have laws that regulate the disposal and handling of e-waste. This means that a large amount of toxic e-waste is left unregulated and unprocessed in the environment.

31. An artificial toxic waste in Baotou, China, collects large amounts of chemical waste. 

First created in the 1950s, an artificial toxic waste lake in Baotou, China collects toxic chemical waste from surrounding refineries through pipelines. The city of Baotou itself is the world’s largest producer of rare earth metals which are heavily used in technology.

Impact of electronics on global warming:

32. Technology manufacturing contributes heavily to the transportation sector.

The manufacturing and production of technology contribute to the transport sector, and subsequently to the CO2 emissions. In addition to this, resources are used to transport large amounts of e-waste between countries, which adds to the depletion of natural resources.

33. The ICT sector contributed to 1.4% of total global emissions

The Information and Communication sector contributes to 1.4% of total global emissions. The sector consists of emissions related to user devices, such as smartphones and laptops, and to modems.

34. Average use of phone results in 4.5 to 5.25 kg of CO2 emissions in a year. 

While the majority of CO2 emissions are released during the manufacturing stages of production, a considerable amount of emissions are released in one year of average use. This is alarming as CO2 emissions are a dangerous cause of global warming.

35. By 2040, phones and data centres will produce the largest carbon footprint of the tech industry

Research has proven that there is an upward trend in the carbon footprint of smaller electronic devices such as smartphones compared to larger devices like laptops. This is due to the increase and development of data centres and telecommunication to meet the growing energy demands.

36. About 98 million tonnes of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere every year. 

A large number of greenhouse gases, 98 million tonnes, are released into the atmosphere from discarded and unprocessed e-waste, equating to about 0.3% of global emissions from the energy sector. These greenhouse gas emissions are a large direct contributor to global warming.

37. Incinerating e-waste releases gases into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse effect. 

Electronic waste is incinerated in a bid to administer large amounts of it which are polluting the environment, it releases gases into the atmosphere. These gases are harmful as they add to the greenhouse effect and have a heavy impact on global warming.

38. By 2025, digital technology will account for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The increasing consumption and production of technological devices predict an increase in their greenhouse gas emission by 2025, which would result in it accounting for 8% of global emissions.

39. The production of a single laptop requires 100,000 litres of water

Approximately 100,000 litres of water are used in the production of a single laptop, and 380 kg of CO2 is produced. Additionally, more than 160 million laptops are produced annually.

40. The manufacturing stage of a phone accounts for 80% of its carbon footprint

The manufacturing of smaller electronic devices, like phones, account for most of their carbon footprint. This is because the components of a phone are created using metals that are obtained through mining and extraction and then refined.