Geographies of E-waste: Towards a Political Ecology Approach to E-waste and Digital Technologies



The production and circulation of electronic waste, or e-waste, has garnered significant popular and academic attention over the last decade and a half. While much of this work has come from the fields of waste management, engineering, chemistry, and public policy, geographers have made significant contributions to understanding this uniquely modern problem in a number of areas: mapping e-waste flows at multiple scales; exploring informal e-waste economies through ethnographic fieldwork; and critically engaging with development schemes and policies designed to mitigate the many hazards associated with electronics recycling. The main body of the paper charts how these empirical contributions have advanced broader debates about global economic linkages and governance. In the concluding section of the paper, I outline a few directions for future research that can continue to push the e-waste literature beyond a managerial focus towards a broader problematization of the social and ecological foundations of digital technologies and economies. I suggest that geographers, particularly those who identify with the questions, methods, and modes of explanation found in political ecology, are well-suited to such a task.