Why I Hate the Term E-Waste


Bob McCarthy

I have been in the electronics recycling and reuse industry for over 20 years, and my single biggest pet peeve is the use of the word “e-waste” to describe unused electronics. Unfortunately, the term has become synonymous with the whole electronics re-use and recycling industry, so much so that several companies place the word in their name.

And it is wrong.

Waste is defined as “material that is not wanted; the unusable remains or byproducts of something.” The last time I checked, that is NOT an accurate description of electronics. So can someone explain to me why this term is still so common?

Why Electronics Aren’t Waste 

electronics are not e-waste because they can be repurposed

  1. In whole or in part, many electronics can be refurbished and reused. Reuse is by far the best way to extend a product’s lifespan and make the best use of its materials. Electronics are so easily and often replaced that always buying new, and discarding the old, is not a sustainable practice.
  2. Nearly all of the materials that make up electronics can be recycled safely. Commodities that can be recovered from electronics include gold, silver, copper, aluminum, steel, and plastic, just to name a few.
  3. There is enough demand for both refurbished electronics and recycled commodities to make a sound economic case for the value of so-called e-waste. Using recycled materials reduces the production cost of new goods and puts less strain on the planet’s natural resources, compared to sourcing virgin material.

It’s simple: Electronics that are being reused on the secondary market or recycled for their materials are not going to waste! The only true e-waste is the electronics that are still ending up landfills or e-waste “graveyards” around the world.  No one benefits from the space they take up or the pollution they cause when they are left to decompose – a process that can take thousands of years.

Going From E-Waste to (R)E-Source

Refurbishing, reusing, and recovering precious commodities are the opposite of wasteful. Any recycling company that treats old hardware as simply “waste” should raise flags for anyone looking to retire their assets. Your image and brand are too valuable to risk. 

This is the thinking that powers Cobalt and makes us different. It’s why, from the very start, we have offered both recycling (recovering materials) and reuse (refurbishment and resale) solutions. Reducing waste and recovering value takes a comprehensive, innovative approach. Learn more about our process.