E-Waste Recycling Facts and Figures

Man showing another man a piece of computer hardware
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Electronic waste, commonly referred to as e-waste, is one of the fastest-growing segments in the municipal solid waste stream. Much e-waste is also 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.

Although nearly 100% of e-waste is recyclable, the current e-waste recycling rate is not promising. Let’s look at some useful facts and figures about e-waste recycling:

The Cost of Electronics

  • A study identified that 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.
  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save enough energy to run 3,657 U.S. homes for a year.
  • Cell phones contain a very high amount of precious metals such as silver and gold. Americans throw away approximately $60 million worth of silver and gold per year.
  • Another EPA report revealed that by recycling 1 million cell phones, we can recover more than 20,000 pounds of copper, 20 pounds of palladium, 550 pounds of silver, and 50 pounds of gold.
  • According to the EPA, 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

  • In 2016, approximately 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste was generated worldwide. The quantity included 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. The amount of worldwide e-waste generation is expected to exceed 50 million tons by 2020, with an annual growth between 4% and 5%.
  • Only 8.9 million metric tons (20%) of total global e-waste generated in 2016 was treated by national electronic take-back systems.
  • North America generated 7 million metric tons of e-waste in 2016. Only about 17% of the e-waste generated in all of the Americas was recycled. The data for 2017 and 2018 are not available yet.
  • According to United Nations reports, only 16% of total global e-waste generation in 2014 was recycled by government agencies and companies sanctioned by industry regulators.
  • A market research firm named iSupply said that global IT spending exceeded $3.8 trillion in 2014.
  • Each year, globally, around 1 billion cell phones and 300 million computers are put into production.
  • 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.

E-Waste in the U.S.

  • According to a report by the EPA, every day in 2012, the U.S. population disposed of over 416,000 mobile devices and 142,000 computers either by recycling or trashing them in landfills and incinerators.
  • A U.N. report said that every year 20 million to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide. This amount accounts for more than 5% of the municipal solid waste stream. However, the EPA reported that e-waste represents only 2% of the U.S. solid waste stream, but the amount accounts for 70% of the hazardous waste that is deposited in landfills.
  • The EPA report said that, in 2007, approximately 26.9 million television sets, weighing 910,600 tons, were scrapped in the U.S.
  • In 2009, only 11% of mobile phones, 17% of TVs and 40% of computers were recycled in the U.S.
  • According to a study conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), an average U.S. household in 2012 spent $1,312 on consumer electronics. The survey found the average family owns 24 discrete consumer electronic products.
  • The CEA estimates that, in 2019, total consumer tech sales in the U.S. will surpass $400 billion.