E-Waste and Education


“E-waste” by Rashmi Gupta, (2013, February 16) (flickr) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs Generic Licence

Throughout my course, we have looked at citizenship from various aspects.  This week’s topic, e-waste, was particularly disconcerting.  E-waste is a significant global problem.  With over 50% of our e-waste being shipped to other countries where regulations are more lax or non-existent, do we as ethical citizens have a moral obligation to safely dispose or recycle e-waste?  “The issue of e-waste spans generations, races and cultures and is inextricably bound to business, health, the environment and the economy on an international level.” (Dickerson & Kisling, 2009, p. 53).  How and when do we teach the younger generation about proper disposal of e-waste, and the ethical and moral issues surrounding this global problem?

Did you know that electronic equipment contains toxic substances such a lead, cadmium, mercury and barium?  These substances must be handled properly to avoid contamination of water health and soil as well as protect humans from serious health problems.  (Dickerson & Kisling, 2009).  With such a disheartening topic, there has to be some hope.  “Sustainable development requires maximum possible utilization of renewable sources as well as minimization of waste production and waste recycling.”  (Klemes, 2010, p. 589).  Kasper (2011) offers hope through their study of recycling mobile phones.  Their study found an ecologically way to manage the waste polymers as well as reuse recycled material in the production of new phones or similar devices.

“When asked about having previously received instruct ion on e-waste, 88% of the students had never received instruction and 79% believed that there was little or no information available on this issue. When asked about their practices of e-waste disposal, student input was concurrent with the lack of instruction they had received on this topic.”  (Dickerson & Kisling, 2009, p. 56).  If students have not received instruction (formal or informal), how and where are they going to learn about their responsibilities and impact?  My daughter taught our family many years ago the importance of properly disposing batteries.  To this day she keeps a metal box in her room for the collection of our family’s used batteries.  Where did she learn this?  She learned this through a grade four class study on waste and the environment.  Kudos to education!


Kasper, A., Bernardes, A., & Veit, H. (2011). Characterization and recovery of polymers from mobile phone scrap. Waste Management & Research: The Journal Of The International Solid Wastes & Public Cleansing Association, ISWA29(7), 714-726.  http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eih&AN=62029993&site=ehost-live

Klemeš, J. (2010). Environmental policy decision-making support tools and pollution reduction technologies: a summary. Clean Technologies & Environmental Policy12(6), 587-589. http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eih&AN=55022955&site=ehost-live

Dickerson, J., & Kisling, E. (2009). Global and electronic waste: information in business education. Journal For Global Business Education951-60. http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=43278562&site=ehost-live


2 thoughts on “E-Waste and Education

  1. The example of your daughter teaching you how to safely dispose of batteries demonstrates one answer to your question “How and when do we teach the younger generation about proper disposal of e-waste, and the ethical and moral issues surrounding this global problem?” The time to enter into this discussion is when it naturally arises in their lives. Sometimes this will be through the exploration of curriculum at their grade level. Often it will be when it is time for the family to dispose of an item that is considered e-waste. How ones’ family behaves is a powerful model for young people when making sense of the world.

    The examples in the Dickerson & Kisling (2009) article provide a number of suggestions for business students that also link to the K-12 school curriculum and would enable teachers to cover this topic with those students. Asking students to investigate what currently happens to electronics at their home or school and having them develop a plan to safely dispose of e-waste (p. 56-57) would be appropriate for elementary aged children, particularly with the grade 4 unit Waste and our World. Junior high students could be involved in discussions on the presence of common chemicals and hazardous materials in electronics as well as the general misunderstandings or ignorance on how to appropriately handle and dispose of e-waste. (p. 56) The foundational outcomes for Science, Technology and Society across Grades 7, 8 and 9 also promote discussions on the ethics of sending e-waste to other countries.(p. 57) I think that every other topic suggested would be appropriate for discussion and exploration at the high school level. (p. 56-57)

    As teachers, now that we are aware of the perceived lack of education and information by students on e-waste, we can be diligent about including this in our planning. We don’t have to wait for the “right” age. When children are talking about a new gadget they have or when the school is participating in an evergreening process, that is the right time to talk about e-waste.


    Alberta Education. (2013). Retrieved from: http://education.alberta.ca/teachers/program/science/programs.aspx

    Dickerson, J., & Kisling, E. (2009). Global and electronic waste: information in business education. Journal For Global Business Education, 951-60. http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=43278562&site=ehost-live

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