How dangerous can landfill disposal be?

4 January 2015

Approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is produced each year, with only an estimated 20% recycled. The remaining waste is destined for either landfill or incineration, practises that can cause considerable harm to the environment. IT equipment such as computers and laptops contain harmful heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and lead, hazardous substances which can pollute the air if the equipment is incinerated, and leech into the soil and surface water should the old IT equipment be placed in landfill.

Ever-developing technology, rapid development in software and competitive pricing has led to computers and laptops becoming obsolete quickly. Large businesses can be left with a vast amount of redundant IT equipment to dispose of and it is essential that they are aware of the pitfalls (and fines!) associated with incorrect computer recycling and disposal of electronic waste.

Clearly, old habits and miseducation on the matter are leading to harmful effects that can easily be avoided. But do we know the full extent of how harmful using landfills can be? And what can we do to safely avoid causing further danger?


What are the effects of not recycling computers?

Landfill impacts 

In the UK, approximately 70% of all heavy metals found causing pollution in landfill sites comes from electronic goods. And the impacts that they can cause aren’t merely limited to the UK; landfills across the globe are packed with reusable and recoverable materials, taking up the space that should be used for non-recyclable products.


Additionally, much of our e-waste is shipped to other countries for what you’d think would be recycling purposes, but more often than not, it merely ends up polluting more landfills elsewhere.

When this scrap is exported to other countries, it is often broken down using dangerous techniques. Such is the case in Ghana, where young workers burn away rubber and plastic from cables to get at the precious copper inside. The fumes this creates can cause serious health problems for those working to retrieve these valuable metals.

Groundwater pollution

While the disposal of electronics in properly managed solid waste landfills isn’t harmful to humans or the environment, computers contain toxic metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury.

The improper disposal of computers can cause these metals to leach into the ground surrounding the dumpsite. This resulting pollution can have negative effects on the groundwater, as well as the flora and fauna that depend on it.

Energy consumption

The gold, copper and platinum contained in computer equipment mean that when said items are thrown away, it forces manufacturers to expend energy and resources to find raw materials for new products.

computers in a trash heap

Mining for precious metals, the creation of engineered plastics and the manufacture of brand-new components all consume energy, expelling greenhouse gases into the environment which act as a catalyst to the effects of climate change. Recycling computers avoids these issues.

Economic impact 

Consumers and businesses may throw away computers that they feel are outdated, opting for newer models even if the previous equipment is still in good working condition. Doing so means that secondary users like schools, non-profit organisations, small businesses and students are denied the benefits. Donating computers in such condition extends their usefulness and stops them from ending up in landfill.

Additionally, the gold contained in redundant computer equipment has some serious value. Gold worth more than £7bn is amongst the 42 million tonnes of electrics discarded each year, which represents a serious loss of value that could be used elsewhere.

What can be done to avoid landfill disposal?

The WEEE Directive

In 2007, the UK government introduced the WEEE Directive. This regulation sets targets for the collection, recovery and recycling of electronic waste, and calls upon producers and manufacturers to take responsibility in making sure redundant equipment is recycled and disposed of in an eco-friendly way.

Computers rusting

Make sure your recycling is secure

With laptops and other data-bearing equipment, extreme care needs to be taken to ensure that all data is destroyed securely. Identity fraud has become a real concern over the last few years, and as cyber attacks become more and more sophisticated, it becomes even more essential to make sure that personal and sensitive data is securely dealt with.

There are many high-profile companies and organisations that have received heavy fines under the 1998 Data Protection Act for failing to secure sensitive data. It is essential for businesses to choose a professional and reputable IT disposal company that will be proficient in ensuring secure destruction of all data and hard drives.

Donate, recycle or re-use

As we mentioned above, any equipment that’s in good working condition and aged five years or less should be donated. There are plenty of charities out there, such as ComputerAid or Computers for Charities, that can refurbish your items, securely remove data and provide them to others across the UK and abroad.

Meanwhile, FreeCycle or Freegle can also help you connect with individuals looking for old equipment to make use of, and many hardware companies, HP and Dell for example, have their own recycling programmes.

For more of the latest news, guides and features from the CDL team, click here to visit our blog. If you’d like to find out more about our IT disposal solutions, visit our homepage or call our team now on 0333 060 5623.



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