History of Electronic Waste Recycling Industry

Did you ever stop to consider how much electronic waste your household produces each year? It’s staggering, and you’re not the only one. Consider how much electronic garbage the entire world produces.

Properly disposing of electronic waste is becoming more and more critical every day.

Where and when did electronic waste disposal start?

Here’s a quick history of electronic waste disposal and recycling.

A Brief History of Electronic Waste Recycling

Electronic waste has been around since the beginning of time. However, it was only in the mid-70s that the proper disposal of electronic waste became a necessity. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was soon passed by the United States. It was made illegal in the United States to dispose of electronic waste.

The recycling industry was born and began to properly dispose of and recycle electronic waste.

What makes proper electronic waste disposal so important?

E-waste is also known as old electronics. It consists of electronic equipment components such as CPUs and another scrap. E-waste can contain potentially dangerous materials such as lead, cadmium, and beryllium. It also contains brominated flame retardants and other toxic elements that can poison our environment and the world in which we live.

It is essential to properly dispose of and recycle all e-waste. However, it won’t work unless everyone wants to do their part and save the planet.

International Dumping Laws are Essential

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was passed by the United States in 1976. Many other countries have since followed their lead.

The EPA states that the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s purpose was to:

  • Protect human health and the environment from the obvious dangers of waste disposal
  • To conserve energy and natural resources.
  • Reduce the waste generated
  • To ensure that all our environment is protected by managing waste.

The EPA had to establish three programs that were interconnected to help them achieve their goals. These were the solid waste, hazardous waste, and underground storage tank programs. Each of these programs had/have their own requirements to help preserve the planet and all life within it.

A series of events occurred shortly after the RCRA was approved, paving the way for international dumping laws. In the 1980s, a Liberian ship was ordered to collect and dispose of 14,000 tons of Philadelphia’s e-waste. The ash was to be sent to New Jersey, but that jurisdiction rejected it. Instead of finding a way to properly dispose of the e-waste, the Liberian ship set sail for sea and began to dump all 14,000 tons of it into the ocean from Asia to the Caribbean. Another incident occurred in Nigeria later. In 1988, 3,500 tons of toxic Italian waste were illegally dumped at Koko.

These illegal dumps were only a few of many events that led to 1989’s Basel Convention. The world demanded that international dumping laws are in place to prevent these kinds of events from happening again.

The Basel Convention is an international treaty that aims to reduce hazardous waste movement between countries. The Basel Convention was up for a vote on March 22, 1989, and became law on May 5, 1992. The Convention is now in force in 186 countries and the European Union as of October 2018. The Convention has been signed by Haiti and the United States, but it is not yet ratified.

All of these historic events led to recycling moving from being a small industry to an international one with a vested interest in protecting our planet and its citizens.

How much E-Waste is actually recycled?

Surprisingly, only 12.5% is actually recycled.


We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of educating the public about recycling their electronic waste and enforcing strict dumping laws. It all starts with you.

This post was written by Steven Elia Co-Founder and Recycling Director at eCycle Florida. eCycle Florida is an R2 Certified electronics recycling company in the state of Florida. Our processes and procedures are dedicated to the proper destruction and recycling of your electronics. eCycle Florida is your go-to for Orlando electronics recycling.