The Atlantic has a lengthy feature on its site examining the global costs of e-waste.
Largely speaking, the piece identifies two affects that e-waste is having on the environment. It increases mining and procurement for the materials needed for production of equipment. And discarded devices produce large quantities of electronic waste that is not often enough reused or recycled.
The full report has more:
Electronic waste is a global ecological issue. It raises concern about air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, information security, and even human exploitation. Air can be polluted when scavengers burn electronic waste to get the copper. If not disposed of properly, toxins from electronic waste can enter the soil and water supplies. And unlike light bulbs, which were engineered to break, much e-waste contains operational devices, which might contain intact data ready to be exploited after discard. The shortened lifespans of electronic devices, encouraged or designed by manufacturers, have pushed consumers to interpret working electronics as insufficient or unusable.
Countries like the United States regulate where and how e-waste gets recycled, but many goods still fill landfills instead. Of the $206 billion spent on consumer electronics in the U.S. in 2012, only 29 percent of the resulting e-waste generated was recycled. The rest were simply trashed. Who even remembers what they did with their first (or third, or fifth) iPhone?