e-Waste Definition

e-Waste for short - or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) - is the term used to describe old, end-of-life or discarded appliances using electricity. It includes computers, consumer electronics, fridges etc which have been disposed of by their original users.

Examples: Computers, LCD / CRT screens, cooling appliances, mobile phones, etc., contain precious metals, flame retarded plastics, CFC foams and many other substances.

Composition of E-waste

E-waste consists of all waste from electronic and electrical appliances which have reached their end- of- life period or are no longer fit for their original intended use and are destined for recovery, recycling or disposal. It includes computer and its accessories, monitors, printers, keyboards, central processing units; typewriters, mobile phones and chargers, remotes, compact discs, headphones, batteries, LCD/Plasma TVs, air conditioners, refrigerators and other household appliances.

The composition of e-waste is diverse and falls under ‘hazardous’ and ‘non-hazardous’ categories. Broadly, it consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete, ceramics, rubber and other items. Iron and steel constitute about 50% of the waste, followed by plastics (21%), non-ferrous metals (13%) and other constituents. Non-ferrous metals consist of metals like copper, aluminium and precious metals like silver, gold, platinum, palladium and so on. The presence of elements like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, hexavalent chromium, and flame retardants beyond threshold quantities make e-waste hazardous in nature. It contains over 1000 different substances, many of which are toxic, and creates serious pollution upon disposal. Obsolete computers pose the most significant environmental and health hazard among the e-wastes.

Environment concerns and Health hazards

The rising quality of life and high rates of resource consumption patterns has had an unintended and negative impact on the environment through the generation of wastes far beyond the handling capacities of governments and agencies. Added to the burden of the management of hazardous municipal waste, the management of huge and growing quantities of electronic waste is emerging as one of the most important environmental problems of developing countries, especially IndiaThe problems associated with electronic waste are now being recognized. E-waste is highly complex to handle due to its composition. It is made up of multiple components some of which contain toxic substances that have an adverse impact on human health and environment if not handled properly. Often, these problems arise out of improper recycling and disposal methods.46 This underlines the need for appropriate technology for handling and disposal of these chemicals.

Hazardous Substances in e-Waste

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).

The following list gives a selection of the mostly found toxic substances in e-waste.

Halogenated compounds:

Occurrence in e-waste
  • 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:

    Occurrence in e-waste
  • Arsenic
  • Small quantities in the form of gallium arsenide within light emitting diodes

  • Barium
  • Getters in CRT
  • Beryllium
  • Power supply boxes which contain silicon controlled rectifiers and x-ray lenses
  • Cadmium
  • Rechargeable NiCd-batteries, fluorescent layer (CRT screens), printer inks and toners, photocopying-machines (printer drums)
  • Chromium VI
  • Data tapes, floppy-disks
  • Lead
  • CRT screens, batteries, printed wiring boards
  • Lithium
  • Li-batteries
  • Mercury
  • Fluorescent lamps that provide backlighting in LCDs, in some alkaline batteries and mercury wetted switches
  • Nickel
  • Rechargeable NiCd-batteries or NiMH-batteries, electron gun in CRT
  • Rare Earth elements (Yttrium, Europium)
  • Fluorescent layer (CRT-screen)
  • Selenium
  • Older photocopying-machines (photo drums)
  • Zinc sulphide
  • Interior of CRT screens, mixed with rare earth metals


    Occurrence in e-waste
  • Toner Dust
  • Toner cartridges for laser printers / copiers

    Radio-active substances:

    Occurrence in e-waste
  • Americium
  • Medical equipment, fire detectors, active sensing element in smoke detectors

    Source: ewasteguide.info

    All these metal present in e-waste has following effects:
    Diseases that metal causes

    Various diseases of the skin and decrease nerve conduction velocity, lung cancer.


    Brain swelling, muscle weakness, damage to the heart, liver and spleen.


    Cause lung cancer,Beryllium Disease (beryllicosis), skin disease.

    Brominated flame retardants (BFRs)

    Severe hormonal disorders.


    Flu-like symptoms of weakness, fever, headache, chills, sweating and muscular pain. lung cancer and kidney damage, Osteomalacia and osteoporosis.

    CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons)

    Deleterious effect on the ozone layer skin cancer in humans and genetic damage in many organisms


    Permanent eye injury, DNA damage.


    Malformations of the foetus, decreased reproduction and growth rates and impairment of the immune system.


    Vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma or even death. abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability and headache,affect the kidneys.


    Brain and liver damage if ingested or inhaled.

    Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

    Cancer in animals. Effects on immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects.

    Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)

    Respiratory problems.


    Hair loss, nail brittleness, and neurological abnormalities.


    Hair loss, nail brittleness, and neurological abnormalities.

    Valuable Substances in e-waste

    Electrical and electronic equipment contain various fractions of valuable materials. Most of the valuable substances are found in printed circuit boards, which occur in relevant quantities mainly in the categories Office, Information and Communication Equipment as well as Entertainment and Consumer Electronics. Besides well known precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium also scarce materials like indium and gallium start to play an important role, due to their application in new technologies (e.g flat screens, photovoltaics).

    The following table presents the composition of a desktop computer plus a CRT screen in. More than 80% of the weight consists of silica (glass), plastics, iron and aluminium. Precious and scarce materials account for only a small percentage of the total weight. Nevertheless, the concentration of such metals, e.g. gold, is higher in a desktop computer than found in naturally occurring mineral ore.

    Composition of a Desktop Personal Computer Based on a typical desktop computer, weighing ~27 kg

    Material name


    (% of total weight)

    Weight of material in computer (kg) Use Location
    Plastics 22.9907 6.26 Insulation Cable, Housing
    Lead 6.2988 1.72 Metal joining Funnel glass in CRTs, PWB
    Aluminum 14.1723 3.86 Structural, Conductivity Housing, CRT, PWB, connectors
    Germanium 0.0016 < 0.1 Semiconductor PWBs
    Gallium 0.0013 < 0.1 Semiconductor PWBs
    Iron 20.4712 5.58 Structural, Magnetivity Housing,CRTs, PWBs
    Tin 1.0078 0.27 Metal joining PWBs, CRTs
    Copper 6.9287 1.91 Conductivity CRTs, PWBs, connectors
    Barium 0.0315 < 0.1   Panel glass in CRTs
    Nickel 0.8503 0.23 Structural, Magnetivity Housing, CRT, PWB
    Zinc 2.2046 0.6 Battery, Phosphor emitter PWB, CRT
    Tantalum 0.0157 < 0.1 Capacitor Capacitors/PWB, power supply
    Indium 0.0016 < 0.1 Transistor, rectifier PWB
    Vanadium 0.0002 < 0.1 Red Phosphor emitter CRT
    Terbium 0 0 Green phosphor activator, dopant CRT, PWB
    Beryllium 0.0157 < 0.1 Thermal Conductivity PWB, connectors
    Gold 0.0016 < 0.1 Connectivity, Conductivity Connectivity, conductivity/PWB, connectors
    Europium 0.0002 < 0.1 Phosphor activator PWB
    Titanium 0.0157 < 0.1 Pigment, alloying agent Housing
    Ruthenium 0.0016 < 0.1 Resistive circuit PWB
    Cobalt 0.0157 < 0.1 Structural, Magnetivity Housing, CRT, PWB
    Palladium 0.0003 < 0.1 Connectivity, Conductivity PWB, connectors
    Manganese 0.0315 < 0.1 Structural, Magnetivity Housing, CRT, PWB
    Silver 0.0189 < 0.1 Conductivity Conductivity/PWB, connectors
    Antinomy 0.0094 < 0.1 Diodes Housing, PWB, CRT
    Bismuth 0.0063 < 0.1 Wetting agent in thick film PWB
    Chromium 0.0063 < 0.1 Decorative, Hardner Housing
    Cadmium 0.0094 < 0.1 Battery, blue-green Phosphor emitter Housing, PWB, CRT
    Selenium 0.0016 0.00044 Rectifiers rectifiers/PWB
    Niobium 0.0002 < 0.1 Welding Housing
    Yttrium 0.0002 < 0.1 Red Phosphor emitter CRT
    Rhodium 0   Thick film conductor PWB
    Platinum 0   Thick film conductor PWB
    Mercury 0.0022 < 0.1 Batteries, switches Housing, PWB
    Arsenic 0.0013 < 0.1 Doping agent in transistors PWB
    Silica 24.8803 6.8 Glass, solid state devices CRT,PWB

    Source: ewasteguide.info


    Disposing e-Waste through a proper channel is a social responsibility that helps to protect environment, human health and preserve natural resources.

    Avoiding unnecessary usage of more and more electronic goods or items. Ex. Purchasing of new electronic items though the old one in good condition.

    If the old products are in working condition it can be donated to any school or organization working in the field of education.

    Send the e-Waste to a formal recycling facility for proper disposal. The recycling includes collection, dismantling, segregation and recovery.


    Exchange offers
    An opportunity to exchange a new product by used product that benefits in two ways. The used product handed over to right hand and consumers benefit with new products.

    Take Back Programs
    Put the e-Waste in proper bins as advised. The e-Waste should not be mixed with Municipal solid waste where segregation is a complex process. Many manufacturers, recyclers and NGOs are organizing take back programs where the e-Waste collected and recycled in an environmental friendly manner.

    Collection Center
    Authorized collection agents and Formal recycling companies set up collection centers in all major cities . The used product should be disposed in these collection centres.

    Collection in Institution and Industries
    Many institutions and Industrial organizations acquire collection bins in their premises where public also can drop their used products as per category. Those end of life products are collected and sent to proper recycler to recycle it in an environmental friendly way.

    Dismantling is more traditional way to separate hazardous materials from recyclable materials. Categorize the collected products and dismantle to recover all the valuable resources that can potentially be reintroduced into market as secondary raw material. It is a mix of reuse and recycling of electronic waste through a mix of manual and automated process, bringing about zero environmental impact and maximizing value from the process of e-waste disposal.

    Segregation is another important step in recycling cycle where the materials is grouped and categorized after dismantling according to their nature and property. The hazardous materials will be treated separately and recyclable materials can be introduced into Recycling process.

    Recycling is a process to identify and separate the valuable resources in a mechanical way. Recycling is inclusive of crushing, separation and recovery processes. The potential materials of segregation unit will size reduce and separate upon the property of the material. The process yields as plastics, glass, aluminum, ferrous & non-ferrous and precious metal. The precious metal mix will be used to further process to recover completely.

    Pollution control and treatment
    The contaminants generated during the complete process in the form of solid, liquid, gaseous and dust particulates are collected and treated properly in an environmental sound manner that complies with all the local, national and international regulations.


    1) rajyasabha.nic.in (E-WASTE IN INDIA- RAJYA SABHA)
    2) ewasteguide.info

    List of e-waste depositor who joined us in this environment friendly activity:

    1) Public around the institute.
    2) Legacy school Bangalore.
    3) Centre for Nano and Soft Matter Science.