How much of e-waste is recycled?

As I am attempting to diagram the electronic trash network, I realize that I still don’t have a clear idea of the percentage of electronics that are discarded in regular trash versus recycled. I also don’t know what the consequences are when electronics are in landfills or incinerators. All I know is that it can’t be good for human health or the environment. So, I set about trying to do a little more research on that today. Below are notes and links that help answer the question of how much of electronic waste ends up in landfills or incinerators.



  • Between 2003 and 2005, as much as 85 percent of the disposed electronics in the U.S. went straight in the trash and headed directly to local landfills or incinerators [source: EPA]. Worldwide, as much as 50 million tons of old electronics are discarded annually [source: Carroll].
  • “In the U.S., e-waste accounts for approximately 4 percent of the total amount of trash, but it contributes about 40 percent of the lead content in landfills. Of the other heavy metals in landfills, e-waste accounts for about 70 percent of that pollution [source: Downing]. “
  • The dangers of discarded, old computers stem from what’s inside them. Your typical piece of electronic equipment — especially one like a PC with many circuit boards — may contain up to 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of lead, along with lower levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium and other toxic chemicals [source: Downing]. These elements are all toxic at varying exposure levels. There is also a fairly poisonous family of flame-retardant chemicals used in most electronics.