Whilst nearly 100% of WEEE can be recycled, there still is ample space for improvement
Waste electric and electronic equipment is, not surprisingly, one of the fastest growing segments in waste streams around the world.
Global consumption of electronics is increasing at a rapid rate, creating a growing amount of e-waste, year after year. Reports indicate that 20 to 50 million tonnes of e-waste are produced annually. In 2012 alone, 1.6 billion mobile phones were manufactured around the planet and in the United States, the average life of a cell phone is a mere 18 months! Americans, in fact, generate no less than 3.4 million tonnes of e-waste per year. This means that if one were to put every blue whale alive today on one side of a scale and one year of US e-waste on the other, the e-waste would be heavier!
Whilst nearly 100 per cent of e-waste – mostly composed of plastics, metals, and glass – can be recycled, our current recycling rate is not very promising and currently covers only about 40% of WEEE. Furthermore, illegal waste streams often end up in landfills across the globe, posing a serious threat to our environment. The UN Environment Programme reported in May 2015 that as much as 90% of the world’s electronic waste – waste with a value of US$19 billion – is illegally traded or disposed of. As a matter of fact, about 50% of Africa’s e-waste comes from Europe.
According to a report by the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US citizens discard over 416,000 mobile devices and 142,000 computers either by recycling or disposing of in landfills and incinerators, while China discards a whopping 160 million electronic devices a year. And while e-waste represents only 2% of the overall solid waste stream, it accounts for nearly 70% of hazardous waste in landfills.
However, recycling (and reuse) is still the best solution to this problem
Last but certainly not least, a further EPA Report reveals recycling one million cell phones yields 9000 kg of copper, 9 kg of palladium, 250 kg of silver and 24 kg of gold. And, moreover, reusing or recycling WEEE can lead to the creation of ca. 300 new jobs per year for every 10,000 tonnes of computer waste alone disposed of.