Electronic waste is one of the fastest-growing types of waste worldwide. Developed countries tend to generate a larger share of e-waste, with China being one of the largest producers. Generally, this waste is imported to developing regions where regulations are less stringent. Some components within the e-waste such as iron, steel, and gold are valuable and can be used as scrap, however, a large share of the components can be toxic (e.g. mercury, arsenic, and chromium). In regions with little to no regulations, processing electronic waste can be extremely harmful to human health due to contact with potentially harmful materials such aslike cadmium and lead or exposure to toxic fumes. The release of toxic materials, volatile organic chemicals, and heavy metals can also be harmful to the environment.
Proper management of the flow of e-waste is necessary worldwide and can include an international protocol, funding for technology transfer, stricter national import and export legislations, and greater consumer awareness. Initiatives should strive to cover the entire life cycle of electronic devices – from production to remanufacturing. Although, the recycling of electronic products can be a good beginning to the e-waste problem, re-use or minimizing consumption is ultimately the most beneficial in terms of material footprint. Increased awareness has also lead to countries like China and Thailand to ban illegal imports of discarded electronics.