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Developing Solutions to Address Hazardous Electronic Waste

May 29, 2014

Numerous states have enacted laws and regulations that prohibit certain electronics to be disposed of in landfills.  In addition to electronic waste being specifically banned from landfill disposal, most other business electronics must be reused or recycled, or managed as hazardous waste under federal and state hazardous waste laws (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2013).

Exhausted (used) and end-of-life (EOL) consumer electronic products are assigned under the category of electronic waste (e-waste).  Consumer electronics that produce e-waste are divided into four major categories, Computers, Televisions, Hard Copy Devices, and Mobile Devices.

Title: Table 1

ComputersTelevisionsHard Copy DevicesMobile Devices
LaptopsCathode ray tubes (CRTs)Multi-function devicesSmartphones
Desktop CPUsFlat-panelPrintersCell phones
MonitorsProjectionFax machinesPDA

Table 1 (above): Examples of consumer electronics within their corresponding category (United States Environmental, 2009).

37 million short tons of used electronics entered EOL waste management in 2009, which represents a 120 percent increase in the quantity of electronics discarded from 1999 (United States Environmental, 2009).  Table 2 details the number of electronics by category that entered end-of-life management in 2009 (United States Environmental, 2009).

Title: Table 2
ComputerComputer DisplaysHard-copy Devices
Units(‘000s)Short tonsUnits(‘000s)Short tonsUnits(‘000s)Short tons
Total sold (1980–2009)857,0007,570,000653,00011,000,000471,0004,050,000
In use325,0002,430,000191,0002,590,000167,0001,450,000
Total n storage70,500742,00040,200862,00041,400352,000
At end-of-life462,0004,400,000422,0007,560,000262,0002,250,000
Keyboards and MiceTVsMobile Devices
Units(‘000s)Short tonsUnits(‘000s)Short tonsUnits(‘000s)Short tons
Total sold (1980–2009)1,670,0001,460,000772,00025,400,0001,660,000257,000
In use368,000311,000312,00011,200,000812,00094,100
Total in storageN/AN/A104,0002,930,00057,8009,270
At end-of-life1,310,0001,150,000356,00011,300,000789,000154,000

Table 2 (above):  Total products at end-of-life, in storage, and in use in 2009 (United States Environmental, 2009).

The full lifecycle of electronic products includes the acquirement of raw materials, manufacturing, purchase and use, storage, and end-of-life management (recycling or disposal) (United States Environmental, 2009).

Electrical and electronic equipment contain different hazardous materials which are harmful to human health and the environment if not disposed of carefully. While some naturally occurring substances are harmless in nature, their use in the manufacture of electronic equipment often results in compounds which are hazardous (e.g. chromium becomes chromium VI) (Swiss Federal Laboratories, 2009).

Title: Table 3
SubstanceOccurrence in Electronic Waste
Halogenated compounds:
PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls)Condensers, Transformers
TBBA (tetrabromo-bisphenol-A)PBB (polybrominated biphenyls)PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)Fire retardants for plastics (thermoplastic components, cable insulation) TBBA is presently the most widely used flame retardant in printed wiring boards and casings
Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)Cooling unit, Insulation foam
PVC (polyvinyl chloride)Cable insulation
Heavy metals and other metals:
ArsenicSmall quantities in the form of gallium arsenide within light emitting diodes
BariumGetters in CRT
BerylliumPower supply boxes which contain silicon controlled rectifiers and x-ray lenses
CadmiumRechargeable NiCd-batteries, fluorescent layer (CRT screens), printer inks and toners, photocopying-machines (printer drums)
LeadCRT screens, batteries, printed wiring boards
MercuryFluorescent lamps that provide backlighting in LCDs, in some alkaline batteries and mercury wetted switches
NickelRechargeable NiCd-batteries or NiMH-batteries, electron gun in CRT
Rare Earth elements (Yttrium, Europium)Fluorescent layer (CRT-screen)
SeleniumOlder photocopying-machines (photo drums)
Zinc sulfideInterior of CRT screens, mixed with rare earth metals
Toner DustToner cartridges for laser printers / copiers
AmericiumMedical equipment, fire detectors, active sensing element in smoke detectors

Hazardous Waste Experts want to provide a means for proper and lawful disposal of electronic waste in an environmentally friendly manner for a nominal fee. In addition most of the waste we manage will be recycled. Give us a call today at 800-936-2311.

(Article by Douglas Macklin)

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2009). Statistics on the Management of Used and End-of-Life Electronics.  Retrieved From: the Environmental Protection Agency website:

Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. (2009). Hazardous Substances in e-Waste. Retrieved From:

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. (2013). A Guide for Businesses, Institutions, Governments and Non-Profits; Managing Used Electronics.  Retrieved from the Department of Natural Resources Website:

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