30 Stunning E-Waste Facts That Everyone Should Know
Each year, the amount of e-waste increases as people purchase more laptops, radios, toys, phones, and other electronics.
Yet, few of us think about the fate of our gadgets and appliances, after they are of no use to us and we dispose of them.
Many of that e-waste is dumped into developing countries, harming the environment and the people.
Below are 30 alarming facts about e-waste, which we hope will sensitize you about the importance of proper e-waste management.
1. The amount of electric and electronic equipment the world utilizes grows by 2.5 million tons each year.
Radios, toys, phones, laptops – if it has a battery supply, it is highly probable that it will join a growing mountain of e-waste after use (Forti, 2020).
2. 53.6 million tons of e-waste were generated worldwide in 2019 alone.
That’s about 7.3 kilograms per person and is equivalent in weight to 350 cruise ships. Asia produced the lion’s share: 24.9 million tons, followed by America (13.1 million tons), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 and 0.7 million tons, respectively (Forti, 2020).
3. The total global generation of e-waste is likely to swell to 74.7 million tons by 2030, almost doubling the annual amount of new e-waste in just 16 years.
This makes e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fueled mainly by more people buying electronic products with shorter life cycles and fewer options for repair (Forti, 2020).
4. In 2019, only 17.4% of e-waste was formally collected and recycled.
Since 2014, the amount of recycled e-waste has only grown by 1.8 million tons each year. The total amount of e-waste generated increased by 9.2 million tons over the same period. Simultaneously, the amount of undocumented e-waste is increasing (Forti, 2020).
5. Studies showed that Europe has the highest collection and recycling rate, covering about 42.5% of the total e-waste generated in 2019.
Asia came in second place at 11.7%, America and Oceania were similar 9.4% and 8.8%, Africa had the lowest rate at 0.9%. What happened with the rest (86.4%) of the world’s e-waste generated in 2019 isn’t clear.
6. In high-income countries, around 8% of e-waste is thought to be discarded in waste bins, while 7%-20% is exported.
There is a less clear picture in lower-income countries, as e-waste is mostly managed informally.
7. E-waste contains precious metals and valuable raw materials such as gold, silver, copper, and platinum.
The total value of all this discarded e-waste in 2019 has been conservatively valued at US57 billion, a sum greater than the GDP of most countries (Forti, 2020).
8. Without a reliable waste management system, toxic substances present in e-waste are likely to be released into the environment and harm the people who live, work and play in e-waste scrapyards.
Those toxic substances include mercury, brominated flame retardants, chlorofluorocarbons, and hydrofluorocarbons (Forti, 2020).
9. Mercury is used in computer monitors and fluorescent lighting, but exposure to it can cause brain damage.
It is estimated that these undocumented flows of e-waste that end up in the environment each year contain about 50 tons of mercury (Forti, 2020).
10. In 2016, almost every person in the United States (U.S) owned a mobile phone, and every second person owned a tablet computer.
Almost 25% also owned an e-book reader. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of American adults who owned a smartphone, a computer, and a tablet doubled to 36% (The Chartered Institute for I.T., 2019).
11. Manufacturing a computer requires a total of 530lb of fossil fuel.
It also requires 48lb of chemicals and 1.5 tons of water (much heavier than resources required for a car) (The Chartered Institute for I.T., 2019).
12. Recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year.
For companies that upgrade their computers, recycling their old ones can also significantly impact energy savings (DeVroom, 2020).
13. For every million cell phones recycled, 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
Americans throw away 151 million cell phones a year (DeVroom, 2020).
14. E-waste accounts for 70% of toxic waste in America.
Yet it only accounts for 2% of the trash found in landfills. Burning those toxic materials will not get rid of their toxicity either. When toxic materials enter the air, nearby residents breathe them in, and these materials also settle on surrounding plants and trees (DeVroom, 2020).
15. Approximately only half of the U.S. states have e-waste laws.
Depending on where you or your company is located, it is essential to know any local or state laws that you must follow. California, in particular, has several laws that address e-waste, including S.B. 20, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act, which provides cost-free recycling opportunities for consumers.
AB 2901, Cell Phone Takeback and Recycling, requires that all of the state’s largest cell phone retailers collect used cell phones at no cost to the consumer and properly recycle or dispose of them.
Other laws include AB 1125, Rechargeable Battery Takeback and Recycling, and AB 1419, CRT Panel Glass Recycling, both of which attempt to reduce the amount of toxic materials that end up in landfills (DeVroom, 2020).
16. Appliances are some of the largest contributors to e-waste.
A study demonstrated that around 60% of e-waste comes from appliances. This includes anything from heating and cooling equipment to washers and dryers or small devices such as coffee makers (DeVroom, 2020).
17. Recycling e-waste boosts the economy.
It creates jobs at recycling facilities. The e-waste management market is also estimated to generate more than $102 billion in revenue by 2027 (DeVroom, 2020).
18. Recycling circuit boards can be more valuable than mining for ore.
One ton of circuit boards is estimated to contain 40-800 times more gold than one metric ton of ore. There is 30 to 40 times more copper in a ton of circuit boards that can be mined from one metric ton of ore (Earth911, 2021).
19. Old television sets and CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors contain approximately 4 to 8 pounds of lead.
Lead is a neurotoxin, and disposing of it improperly means this toxic substance can leach into the ground (Earth911, 2021).
20. In 2019, between 3.75 million tons and 10.72 million tons of e-waste were shipped to developing countries.
Not only did it create a dumping problem in those countries, but it also used resources to transport waste to countries around the world (Earth911, 2021).
21. Plastic e-waste can be recycled into garden furniture.
We can reuse battery components in other batteries. Metals can be used in jewelry and automotive parts (Earth911, 2021).
22. According to Jonas Allen, director of marketing for EPEAT, a golden green electronic rating system, about 40% of the heavy metals in U.S. landfills come from discarded electronics (Earth911, 2021).
23. According to Allen, if the recycling rates for gold, silver, and platinum all increased to 100%, the electronics sector could realize $12 billion in financial and natural capital benefits.
The current recycling rates for gold, silver, and platinum are 15%, 15%, and 5%, respectively (Earth911, 2021).
24. There are more mobile connections globally than the number of people on Earth.
Based on cellular data, there are 10.36 billion mobile connections, while the world population is 7.84 billion. This does not mean that everyone owns a mobile device; the number of people with mobile devices is estimated at 5.26 billion (Earth911, 2021).
25. 71% of the world’s population is covered by a national E-waste policy, legislation, or regulation.
Since 2014, 17 more countries have become covered by some sort of policy, legislation, or regulation. This is a great leap forward to educating the mass public on the e-waste crisis. However, there is always more to be done, with 117 countries still without these important policies (Graham, 2020).
26. Ony 41 nations compile e-waste statistics.
Moreover, their partial data cannot keep up with the expansion of electronic devices into so many consumer categories – toys and toilets, watches, and refrigerators (Larmer, 2018).
27. In France, 5 kg of electrical products per person are non-functional (meaning they sit in drawers).
Additionally, 17 kg of the products is rarely used (Kilvert, 2021).
28. Proper e-waste management can help mitigate global warming.
In 2019, an estimated 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents were released into the atmosphere from discarded refrigerators and air-conditioners, contributing roughly 0.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions (United Nations University, 2020).
29. Since 2014, the e-waste categories increasing fastest in terms of total weight were temperature exchange equipment (+7%), large equipment (+5%), and lamps and small equipment (+4%).
According to this report, this trend is driven by the growing consumption of those products in lower-income countries, improving living standards. Small IT and communication equipment have been growing more slowly, and screens and monitors have shown a slight decrease (-1%), explained largely by lighter flat panel displays replacing heavy CRT monitors and screens (United Nations University, 2020).
30. The Chinese city of Guiyu in Guangdong province is the world’s largest dumping ground for electronic waste.
With a population of 150,000, Guiyu receives 15,000 metric tons of waste each day. In addition to devastating effects on the environment, the vast quantities of electronic waste are harmful to residents of Guiyu, most of whom work in the recycling industry (Sommer, 2015).
With the amount of e-waste expected to double by 2030, it is crucial to find ways to deal with this issue. Policies, legislation, and regulations for e-waste management are helpful. Individuals should also be responsible by properly disposing of e-waste and looking for responsible recyclers who do not just dump e-waste in third-world countries.