E-waste is any refuse created by discarded electronic devices and components as well as substances involved in their manufacture or use. The disposal of electronics is a growing problem because electronic equipment frequently contains hazardous substances. In a personal computer, for example, there may be lead in the cathode ray tube (CRT) and soldering compound, mercury in switches and housing, and cobalt in steel components, among other equally toxic substances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than four million tons of e-waste go to U.S. landfills each year.
Around the world, a number of initiatives have arisen to address the issue of e-waste, by promoting the reuse of electronic devices (e-cycling) and mandating that safer alternatives to hazardous substances be used in their manufacture whenever possible. In Europe, legislation has been drafted to deal with the problem, including the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and the Basel Convention. In the United States, initiatives have mostly come from the private sector, such as eBay's Rethink project.