In this introductory module, you will learn what e-waste is and why it is a problem. You will also learn about the different categories of e-waste, the waste hierarchy, and e-waste composition.
Let's get started! First of all, what is WEEE? According to the definition from the European Directive, WEEE or e-waste refers to the waste of any equipment that is dependent on electric currents or batteries to work; basically anything that you need to plug in to a socket or needs batteries to function. Because there are so many different types of e-waste, there needed to be a bit more structure in defining the major categories, there are 6 categories:
The current EU waste policy clarifies the waste hierarchy concept: ideally, waste should be prevented, and waste that cannot be prevented should be reused, recycled or recovered. The landfill should be our last resort. Waste legislation and EU Member State policy prioritize this hierarchy.
Re-use simply means using products again to perform the functions they were built for, thus avoiding waste.
Recycling includes recovery (collection and sorting) of waste and reprocessing it into new products, materials or substances.
Energy recovery is the conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into usable heat, electricity, or fuel through a variety of processes including combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion, and landfill gas (LFG) recovery. This process is also called waste-to-energy (WTE).
E-Waste composition is very diverse. As a whole, WEEE contains a lot of different substances which fall under “hazardous” and “non-hazardous” categories. Broadly, e-waste consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete and ceramics, rubber and other items. The elements with higher recycling rates are base metals like iron, aluminium and copper, followed by precious metals like silver and gold. Aside from palladium, the recycling rate of critical raw materials like neodymium, indium and cobalt is usually low.
Congratulations! You just completed Module 1! Test what you have learned by taking a short quiz. Each question has one possible answer. Once you finish the quiz, you can move on to the next module.
If you are a teacher and have decided to explore this topic with your classroom, then you have come to the right place! In this space, you will find ideas on how to prepare e-waste lessons. Additional suggestions for learning targets and classes have also been uploaded and they include:
The topics introduced here can intersect with chemistry, geography, and other science classes (e.g. environmental education).