It’s a staggering figure — $55 billion in U.S. dollars, which is higher than the 2016 gross domestic product of most countries in the world.
And it represents the total value of recoverable materials in 2017 from e-waste, or used electronics that have outlived their usefulness.
The problem, according to the International Solid Waste Association, is that the figure doesn’t apply to what was recovered financially courtesy of used electronics recycling. As the association noted, of the electronic scrap generated in 2016, only 20 percent is documented as having been collected and recycled.
Now let’s look at the other 80 percent that simply got tossed into landfills, resold, or left to sit in someone’s desk. The association estimated that the value of recoverable materials in last year’s e-waste was a whopping $55 billion in U.S. dollars.
If that seems like a startling number, the International Solid Waste Association certainly hopes it becomes a wakeup call for nations across the globe, and a rallying cry for 2018. Their message: the need to put a stronger focus on e-waste, and how it’s become a worldwide concern.
They’re putting a brighter spotlight on the issue of increasing recycling rates for electronic waste, which helps the economy by reducing the cost of producing new products. Through used electronics recycling, the parts within each device that are salvageable can be reused in the manufacturing process. That holds down costs for manufacturers, who can then pass on those savings to consumers.
And they want more and more nations to set sustainable development goals when it comes to successfully managing e-waste, including through waste management recycling.
Putting a spotlight on the challenge of e-waste
The platform for advocating more aggressive action was The Global E-waste Monitor 2017, a report that was issued by ISWA as a joint effort with the United Nations University. It offers an overview of the magnitude of the e-waste problem as a worldwide concern.
But it also recommends solutions. That includes the need for more data on e-waste, including how much is actually getting recycled from one nation to the next. That information, the report noted, can help policymakers track the progress of waste management recycling efforts, identify where further work is needed, and use that information to achieve sustainable long-term goals.
Because a lot of the report’s conclusions sound dire.
The study noted that 44.7 million metric tons of electronic scrap got generated globally in 2016. That represented an increase of 3.3 million metric tons, or 8 percent, from 2014.
Unfortunately, that number is likely to keep increasing, the report stressed, since higher levels of disposable income and industrialization are bringing more people into the .
What is e-waste?
E-waste refers to any electrical and electronic equipment that has been discarded by its owner as waste, without the intent to reuse it. The term covers a very wide range of products. It can include:
• households with circuitry or electrical components for delivering power;
• Business products that do the same;
• Temperature exchange equipment for cooling and freezing, like refrigerators, air conditioners and heat pumps;
• Screens or monitors;
• Large equipment like washing machines, clothes dryers, dish-washing machines, electric stoves, large printing machines, etc.
• Smaller equipment like microwaves, ventilation equipment, video cameras, electronic tools, etc.
• Small IT and telecommunication equipment like mobile phones, pocket calculators, printers, etc.
For many of these products, there’s an increasingly short replacement cycle as technological advances keep updating each device on a regular basis, offering consumers a new and improved model. And it’s not just smartphones that consumers replace frequently. Upgrades can include higher speeds and newer technologies, so older equipment gets replaced even if it’s not broken or obsolete. What it becomes, in the minds of the consumers, is outdated – too slow, or without the latest features.
The study also noted that another change is that in many countries, people own multiple devices. That means they also have multiple devices to discard.
What is happening today to e-waste?
The report is forecasting an additional 17 percent increase in e-waste, up to 52.2 million metric tons of obsolete electronics by 2021, which would make e-waste the fastest growing part of the world’s continuous steam of discarded household items. The annual growth rate of e-waste is expected to be between 3-4 percent.
The concerns about the rising amount of discarded equipment are not just economic. There are also serious environmental concerns, and even serious fears, about the health risk of devices that contain toxic substances like lead and mercury not being treated adequately.
Allowing e-waste to pile up in landfills significantly increases these risks, when they can be lowered by having e-waste treated through appropriate recycling methods. This trend also shows how valuable resources are being wasted on a very large scale.
Can this problem be addressed?
If there’s good news in the report, it’s that more nations are recognizing the problem and doing something about it. By January 2017, roughly 4.8 billion people were covered by legislation that addresses the e-waste problem, which is 66 percent of the world’s population in 67 countries. That compares to 2014, when 44 percent of the world’s population (in 61 countries) was covered.
Still, as the report cautions, “National legislation does not always translate to concrete action.”
In some instances, the report points out, establishing a new e-waste recycling system gets complicated when there isn’t a single entity to oversee it and become responsible for the successful operation of that system.
When a successful recycling program is adopted, the report stressed, it usually includes a system to ensure that the rules are enforced and there is full compliance with the program’s goals. The most successful ones, they add, have a financial model that works to help promote e-waste recycling, and the reuse of recycled parts. The report points out that India and China both have national e-waste regulations, and those policies cover 4.8 billion people.
“However, the existence of policies or legislation does not necessarily imply successful enforcement or the existence of sufficient e-waste management systems,” the report notes, while adding that legislation is complicated by the fact that the laws cover different types of e-waste from one nation to the next.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2017 is a starting point for an international dialogue this year about what needs to be done to reduce e-waste and the significant environmental problems that it poses, while promoting the recycling of used electronics as a way to boost the economy by creating jobs, reducing the cost of manufacturing new products, and providing price savings to consumers.
In the meantime, the more we increase e-waste recycling rates, the better off we’ll be. As the report noted, the amount of e-waste being generated per category is expected to grow in future years, driven by growing consumption of those products.
Anyone who wants to recycle used electronics can contact Great Lakes Electronics Corporation today to learn more about how those products can be used to make new ones.
Electronic recycling is the specialty of Great Lakes Electronics, which is also your security specialist. The team at Great Lakes will ensure that regardless of what you bring to them, all personal information stored on your devices and hard drives will eliminated. The identity thieves will be completely out of luck here.
To learn more, call Great Lakes Electronics at 888-392-7831 to request a quote.