8 Types of eWaste and How to Recycle Them

eWaste 101: Different Types and How To Recycle Them


It took over 100 years for cell phones to replace landline telephones. By contrast, there are only 16 years between the release dates of the iPhone 1 (which didn’t even have a flashlight or front camera) and the iPhone 15. Technology is advancing rapidly, and every new device leaves hundreds of old ones behind.


However, the e-waste problem is not all about cell phones and laptops. ICT equipment is only a small percentage of the world’s e-waste. In South Africa, we consider all “waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE)” as e-waste. The official definition includes any item that requires electricity or batteries to work.


We explore eight additional types of e-waste below.


1.Appliances and Power Tools


Large appliances (over 100cm) like fridges, freezers, washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, and ovens create e-waste. So do lawn mowers, pool pumps, power tools, and electric kitchen gadgets. These items contain valuable, sometimes toxic, materials that should never go to a landfill. For example, ceramic heating elements, motors, coolant, circuit boards, silicone, and metal.


2.Speakers and Sound Equipment


Speakers, amplifiers, and subwoofers convert electrical signals into sound, therefore they are considered e-waste when they break. Most modern music equipment (mixing desks, microphones, electric keyboards, etc.) run on electronics. Before you get rid of a broken portable speaker, remember that it contains magnets, batteries, and metal coils and wires. These are hazardous materials and should always be recycled.


3.Medical Equipment


Have you noticed load shedding isn’t as bad near hospitals? That’s because modern medicine relies on electricity. X-ray machines, ventilators, thermometers, heart rate monitors, incubators, and so much more in the medical industry creates e-waste. This equipment is packed with non-renewable resources like gold, silver, and rare earth elements, plus magnets, batteries, glass, and metal.




Light bulbs were invented almost 150 years ago, and they’ve become a lot more complicated since then. Today, most household lights contain LEDs, which are predominantly made from two hazardous elements–indium and gallium. Throwing LED lights in the rubbish could have serious environmental effects. Many other types of lighting waste pose similar risks, so you should always recycle lightbulbs.


5.Batteries, Wiring, and Switches


The SA government’s definition of e-waste includes equipment for the “generation, transfer, and measurement” of electric currents and electromagnetic fields. That means it’s not only the device or appliance itself, but all the extras that come with it. Electronics hoarding is normal, but it’s not good for the planet. Rather recycle those dead batteries, broken extension cords, and old chargers you don’t use!


6.Home Heating and Cooling


Air conditioners are e-waste. They contain chemical coolants plus a host of wiring and electronic components that should never go to landfill. The same goes for electric heaters and fans. Whether you’re doing luxury renovations or an emergency replacement, always ask your plumber about eco-friendly geyser disposal–you may be able to recycle it or turn it into something new.


7.Solar Power Systems


Solar panels, inverters, and batteries should never end up in a landfill–they contain valuable materials that can be recycled! For example, glass and metal account for 80% of a solar panel’s weight. Other electrical parts like charge controllers, cables, and metres also generate e-waste. You may be able to sell these items or scrap them when they no longer work, making money and recycling at the same time.


8.Toys and Gadgets


These days, almost all kids’ toys light up and make noises with built-in batteries and speakers. Sometimes they even contain tiny electric motors and circuit boards within their plastic shells. Toys like this should be treated as e-waste when it’s time to throw them away. The same goes for electric bicycles and scooters, digital cameras, fitness watches, drones, and other playtime gadgets.


How To Recycle eWaste


The reason we recycle e-waste is to recover the materials it contains. Some of these materials, like copper, gold, and silver, are extremely valuable. Others, like mercury, lead, and cobalt, can be toxic. We want to make sure that no toxic metals and chemicals end up in landfills where they can seep into the soil and water, poisoning our wildlife.


Recycling e-waste happens in two steps:


1.Material separation.

Electronics and electrical gadgets are made of dozens of different materials. Each material is recycled differently so you can’t process them all together. Instead, one must dismantle and take things apart, collecting plastic, metal, batteries, wiring, and glass in separate buckets.


Usually, consumers don’t have to do this step. All you have to do is drop off your e-waste at a designated collection point and the recyclers will separate it for you.


2.Material processing

Once the e-waste has been separated by material, it’s sent for further processing. Metal, for example, gets melted down and made into shiny new products. Polystyrene insulation gets crushed and reformed into things like skirting boards and picture frames, and glass is cleaned, melted, and reshaped.


Did you know all businesses that sell electronics/electrical goods have to comply with e-waste recycling laws in South Africa? This system is called extended producer responsibility (EPR) and is already in play across most of the world. Learn more about the regulations and how to comply with them. 


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