Skyrocketing E-Waste: A Global Waste Management Problem

waste management

Waste management is becoming a bigger challenge across the globe. And that’s particularly true of e-Waste.

When the first International E-Waste Day was announced for Oct. 13, organizers invited the public to consider some sobering facts about how waste management and e-Waste are impacting our lives.

Developed by the WEEE Forum, an international association of e-waste collection organizations in 20 nations, this new annual day was designed to not only raise awareness about e-waste, but also encourage consumers to properly recycle all their used electronics.

The facts truly are eye-opening. This year, about 50 million tons of e-waste is expected to get generated globally. More than half of that will be personal devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers. Larger household appliances and heating and cooling equipment will make up the rest.

If anything, those numbers will rise quickly in the next few years. And that’s a problematic concern since as WEEE Forum noted, only 20% of global e-waste is getting recycled each year.

That translates into 40 million tons of e-waste being put in landfills, being burned, or disappearing. That’s a global environmental and health concern. And it’s a frustrating one, since much of the world’s population, up to 66%, is covered by e-waste legislation.

If that’s the case, why are we not seeing higher recycling rates of used electronics?


Why We Shouldn’t Waste our E-Waste


If it sounds troubling that the world is generating more than 50 million tons of e-waste, hold on to your seats. Unless we boost recycling rates, this challenge will get much worse.

A new study by the International Telecommunications Union is warning that by 2100, the amount of global waste being generated will surpass 4 billion tons a year.

As ITU noted, e-waste makes up a fast-growing aspect of the global waste management stream. E-waste levels rose to 44 million tons in 2016 and will exceed 52.2 million tons by 2021.

That skyrocketing volume of e-waste is expected to put a major burden on landfills.

In fact, as more and more electronic devices get mass produced and consumers rush to replace their older devices, ITU warns that landfills will quickly become “e-waste graveyards.”

But 2100 hasn’t arrived yet. That’s why organizations like ITC and the WEEE Forum are eager to raise awareness of the problem. And they hope to encourage and facilitate higher recycling rates.


What Problems Do Low Recycling rates Cause?


Low recycling rates for e-waste create a lot of problems, including:

  • The huge loss of valuable and critical raw materials contained within e-waste, which can be recovered and recycled to manufacture new products;
  • Serious environmental concerns about e-Waste in landfills, where toxic chemicals within them can contaminate the soil and water;
  • Persistent health concerns from exposure to those contaminants;
  • The challenge of combating illegal shipments of e-waste to developing countries.

Fully comprehending the magnitude of this challenge is a decent start. But addressing it will require a stronger and more coordinated effort to increase consumer knowledge about e-Waste. That includes how to properly dispose of unwanted devices by taking them to an experienced recycling firm like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation.

That’s ITU message. Unless used devices are properly, responsibly and efficiently recycled, the environmental risks posed by e-Waste will only increase.


How Can We Address Global Waste Management?


While just 20% of e-Waste gets collected and properly recycled, ITU noted, a lot of businesses may not be aware that used electronic devices, including office equipment and company phones, can be sent to a recycling firm rather than the junkyard.

Another concern: those companies also don’t understand that e-Waste still has a lot of value, even if the device itself is no longer working. That makes it a serious waste of valuable resources to simply discard them in landfills.

WEEE notes that used electronics contain silver, copper, platinum, and palladium. Smartphones are a rich source for gold. Companies are being encouraged to seize this opportunity and take advantage of the recycling potential for gold used in computers.

Gold is the most valuable metal in a phone. It’s been estimated that a ton of mobile phones contains as much as 300 grams of gold. Seven percent of gold in circulation is found in the circuitry of electronic devices.

The e-waste being thrown out every year has an estimated $65 billion worth of raw materials. That’s more than the gross domestic product of some countries.

That’s why ITU emphasizes that if businesses capitalize on this overlooked opportunity, they can recover some of their initial investment in their used equipment.

So these devices do not simply become “junk” that should simply be disposed of.

What Environmental Risks Are Posed by E-Waste?

When individuals and businesses don’t take the time to recycle, the environmental consequences are severe.

Because it’s a worldwide problem. That’s why the United Nations has been working all year to raise awareness of this challenge. The UN is making a commitment to curbing e-waste.

And the UN is working to instill successful sustainable practices worldwide.

Because a healthy economy is, ironically, contributing to the problem, as more and more people can afford mobile phones and other electronics, and quickly replace the older versions, considering them obsolete without the new advances being added to the most recent version.

Because a lot of people are not aware of the fact that e-waste contains poisonous chemicals, which includes:

  • Mercury in liquid-crystal display screens;
  • Lead in cathode-ray tubes;
  • and cadmium in semiconductors and batteries.

Besides that, if e-waste simply gets dumped into a landfill, without being properly treated first, those chemicals leach into the soil and water supply.

Similarly, the devices that get incinerated end up polluting the air.


What’s the Best Approach to Waste Management?


Most importantly, what’s needed isn’t a shift in attitude about recycling. Studies indicate that a lot of people understand the value and benefit of recycling and embrace the concept.

Therefore, the issue is awareness. What a lot of consumers and businesses may not understand is what can get recycled, including electronics. More education for businesses and consumers will be a key factor in the coming years.

Our problem today is that the majority of e-Waste simply isn’t being recycled. Take Europe, for example, where e-Waste is regulated by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. That law i designed to improve the collection, treatment, and recycling of electronics at the end of their life.

The European Union has the strictest rules in the world. They’re aiming to properly collect and treat 65 percent of its e-Waste by next year.

But Europe has a long way to go. Currently, the recycling rates in the European Union are at 35 percent.

At least Europe is working toward the goal of a higher recycling rate. In the U.S., there are no federal laws governing e-waste. Half the states have passed their own legislation to address the issue. Most states make electronics manufacturers responsible for a product through its end-of-life treatment.

How Can Consumers and Businesses Do More?

We know that all electronics contain plenty of valuable metals. That’s one of many reasons why we should be recycling them.

Likewise, we know that as more and more of the world becomes high-tech, our environmental problem with e-Waste will keep piling up.

And we know a dramatically rising amount of old phones, laptops, and other electronics will end up in landfills.

So let’s support the work being done by environmentalists, government agencies and health care advocates to raise awareness about waste management issues.

As a result, recycling remains the most effective way to keep e-Waste from damaging our environment and our health. It’s a message we need to keep repeating.




That’s why it’s important for everyone to take their unwanted electronics to a proven recycling firm like Great Lakes Electronics Corporation.

Great Lakes Electronics Corporation has a great reputation for being trusted experts in the recycling and waste management of electronics and other metals. The unwanted equipment brought to their experienced team is recycled in a responsible, environmentally conscious way. They’re a family-owned and operated business that prides itself as being environmental stewards.

Above all, Great Lakes Electronics Corporation serves customers both large and small, from private customers to large corporations. Contact them today at 888-392-7831 to request a quote.