E-Waste Recycling Facts and Figures

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Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to any discarded products with a battery or plug. The biggest e-waste categories are small and large appliances and heating/cooling equipment. If not properly disposed of, e-waste is devastating to the environment, making recycling and recovery programs critical. Items that can be recovered from e-waste to prevent environmental damage include constituents such as plastics, metals, and glass.

When compared to multinational giants, small businesses create a fraction of the e-waste that the planet must collectively manage. Nevertheless, as the burden of ecological destruction grows with each passing year, small businesses can and must be a part of the solution for processing global waste.

Below are useful facts and figures pertaining to e-waste recycling, intended to inspire business owners large and small to make changes in how they process waste:

The Cost of Electronics

  • Producing a computer along with its monitor takes at least 1.5 tons of water, 48 pounds of chemicals, and 530 pounds of fossil fuels.
  • Compared to disposal in landfills or by incinerators, reusing or recycling computers can create 296 more jobs per year for every 10,000 tons of computer waste processed.
  • Only 20% of e-waste is documented to have been collected and recycled, despite high-value recoverable materials such as copper and gold.
  • Americans throw away an estimated $55 billion in e-waste material annually (more than the 2019 Gross Domestic Product of many countries.)
  • By recycling 1 million cell phones, more than 35,000 pounds of copper, 33 pounds of palladium, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered.
  • The excessive amount of lead in e-waste, if released into the environment, could cause severe damage to human blood and kidneys, as well as central and peripheral nervous systems.

E-Waste Globally

  • The amount of worldwide e-waste generation is expected to exceed 50 million tons by 2020, with an annual growth between 4% and 5%.
  • This quantity includes 16.8 million metric tons of small equipment; 9.1 million metric tons of large equipment; 7.6 million metric tons of temperature exchange (freezing and cooling) equipment; 6.6 million metric tons of screens and monitors; 3.9 million metric tons of small IT,; and 0.7 million metric tons of lamps.
  • UN agencies have come together with the World Economic Forum, the Global Environment Facility, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system.
  • A total of 67 countries have legislation in place to deal with the e-waste they generate.
  • Japan generated 2,139 kilotonnes of e-waste, only 26% of which was formally collected.
  • On a per capita average basis, each Japanese resident discarded 16.9 kilograms of e-waste, less than the USA and UK average levels (19.4 kg and 24.9 kg per person, respectively) but far above the Asian per capita average of 4.2 kg.
  • The Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility and UN Environment have announced a $15-million initiative to kick off a circular e-waste system in Nigeria in 2019.
  • The amount of global e-waste is expected to grow by 8% per year.
  • Roughly 40% of e-waste generated in the U.S., Canada, and Europe is exported to Asia, a trade flow that is a source of considerable controversy.
  • As much as 7% of the world’s gold may currently be contained in e-waste, with 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore.

E-Waste in the U.S.

  • Americans spent $71 billion on telephone and communication equipment in 2019, nearly five times what they spent in 2010 even when adjusted for inflation.
  • Americans now own approximately 24 electronic products per household.
  • Only 19 states have laws banning electronics from the regular trash. In states without such rules, like Nevada, electronics often end up in garbage and recycling bins.
  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save enough energy to run 3,500 U.S. homes for a year.
  • In the United States and Canada, every person produces roughly 20kg of e-waste annually.

Article Sources

  1. United Nations University. "E-waste Rises 8% by Weight in 2 Years as Incomes Rise, Prices Fall." Accessed Jan. 10, 2020.

  2. Francis O. Adeola. "Industrial Disasters, Toxic Waste, and Community Impact: Health Effects and Environmental Justice Struggles Around the Globe." Accessed Jan. 10, 2020.

  3. IGI Global. "Handbook of Research on Green ICT: Technology, Business and Social Perspectives." Accessed Jan. 10, 2020.

  4. UN Environment Programme. "UN Report: Time to Seize Opportunity, Tackle Challenge of E-Waste." Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.

  5. United Nations University. "E-waste Rises 8% by Weight in 2 Years as Incomes Rise, Prices Fall." Accessed Jan. 10, 2020.

  6. Environmental Protection Agency. "Electronics Donation and Recycling." Accessed Jan. 10, 2020.

  7. Institute of Physics. "E-waste Pollution’ Threat to Human Health." Accessed Jan. 10, 2020.

  8. The Global E-Waste Monitor 2017. "Quantities, Flows, and Resources." Accessed Jan 11, 2020.

  9. UN Environmental Programme. "UN Report: Time to Seize Opportunity, Tackle Challenge of E-Waste." Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.

  10. World Economic Forum. "A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot." Page 13. Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.

  11. The Global Waste Statistics Partnership. "Global E-Waste Monitor 2017." PDF Download. Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.

  12. Basel Action Network. "E-waste chokes Southeast Asia." Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.

  13. Bureau of Economic Analysis. "National Income and Product Accounts." Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.

  14. National Conference Of State Legislators. "Electronic Waste Recycling." Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.

  15. Time Magazine. "The World Has An E-Waste Problem." Accessed Jan. 11, 2020.