E-waste is defined as electronic items that have reached their end of life. It’s the phones, computers, televisions, monitors, printers, copiers, etc. that are no longer being used for one reason or another. They may have stopped working, experienced major damage, or become so obsolete that the drivers can no longer be updated to work with modern computers.

Think about the electronics you use every day. You’re probably working or playing games on a laptop. You’re calling or texting people and watching quick videos on your phone. You’re using a tablet to read a book or video chat with a family member. When that electronic is old or stops working, you have to replace it. What do you do with the old one? If you don’t know, it’s not surprising. It’s time to look at some of the staggering facts about e-waste in 2022.

Today’s Adults Don’t Understand E-Waste

A study of Gen Z and Millennials found that 60% of these adults didn’t know what e-waste was and 57% didn’t realize these items contribute to pollution. While 90% of Gen Z and Millennials report they recycle plastics, glass, metals, and paper, studies find that only 37% of these adults are not contributing to the e-waste problem.

Six out of ten admit to throwing items like cellphones, charging cables, earbuds, and headphones into the trash.  Of those people, 36% report that they simply don’t know if an item is recyclable or not and 44% don’t know how/where to recycle them. This is alarming and shows that many districts need to start making the information more apparent. It needs to be easier to recycle electronics.

Less Than 20% of E-Waste Is Recycled Properly

Looking at the global statistics for e-waste, only 17.4% of e-waste was recycled in 2019. For e-waste to be recycled properly, it needs to go to an electronics recycling facility that breaks the components down to salvage any parts that can be used for repairs of other devices. Items need to have data destroyed and then they go into giant grinders that break them up into pieces that can be sorted by metal, glass, and plastic.

These items are further separated by the type of metal. The different materials go to facilities that process them for reuse. When done properly, e-waste recycling recovers raw materials like gold, aluminum, silver, copper, and palladium and uses them to make new items.

It’s even worse in the U.S., as only 15% of e-waste was recycled. The U.S. is the second largest producer of e-waste, yet it’s the third when it comes to e-waste recycling rates. Europe and Asia have topped our recycling rates. Americans need to start taking measures to properly recycle their items, even if their state doesn’t have rules in place, and not all states do have e-waste regulations.

Small Equipment Is the Biggest Part of E-Waste

Small electronics make up 38% of e-waste. This is followed by large electronics (20%), temperature exchange equipment like air conditioners (17%), monitors/screens (15%), small IT (9%), and lamps (1%). It’s estimated that there are also well over 100 million older electronics stored in attics, basements, closets, storerooms, and garages.

Worldwide E-Waste Is Expected to Double Between 2014 and 2030

Using the trends in e-waste over the years, it’s expected that the amount of e-waste generated each year will double by 2030. It’s expected that worldwide e-waste generation will be at 67 million tons by 2030, which is almost double 2014’s waste. Between 2014 and 2019, there was a 21% increase.

Asia Produces the Most E-Waste, But Europe Produces the Most Per Capita

If you look at the countries with the largest generation of e-waste, you’ll see that Asia tops the list at 22.6 million tons. The Americas are second at 11.9 million tons. Europe (10.9 million tons), Africa (2.6 million tons), and Oceania (0.6 million tons) round out the list.

This can be a little misleading as the numbers change if you look at the “per capita” rates. Per capita looks at the amount of e-waste per person in that area. Europe moves to first place with 35.6 pounds per person. Oceania is second at 35.4 pounds. The Americas (29.2 pounds), Asia (12.3 pounds), and Africa (5.5 pounds) round out that list.

Europe Is the Best at E-Waste Recycling

Europeans may generate the most e-waste per capita, but they also recycle at far higher rates than other countries. Almost 43% of Europe’s e-waste is properly recycled. Compare this to Asia (11.7%), and the Americas (9.4%).

80% of E-Waste Is Shipped to Developing Nations

When e-waste is recycled, where does it go? In an ideal world, it would be responsibly recycled in that country following safety measures designed to protect people and the environment. Unfortunately, 80% of it goes to landfills in developing nations. In that landfill, workers break the items down to burn the materials that can be extracted or sell the items that still have use.

This is problematic as not every country follows safe practices. They don’t take steps to protect the workers from exposure to toxic materials. Some of these items can leach heavy metals into the groundwater and soil where area residents are exposed to the toxins every day.

Ghana Receives the Most E-Waste

Ghana receives the most e-waste of any country. An area outside of Accra receives more than 225,000 tons of e-waste every year. This practice is a vital source of income for the impoverished residents, but the workers who process the e-waste do not have any formal training. They also do not follow any regulations designed to keep the environment and people safe.

Everything at Agbogbloshie took a turn in 2021 when the government stepped in and bulldozed the entire 20-acre scrapyard. Only two buildings remained and thousands of people were left without a source of income. Worse, the measures that the NGO and other organizations had put in place to limit pollution were ignored, leading to excessive pollution.

Cellphones and Circuit Boards Contain Valuable Metals

We’ve covered current recycling rates, but what happens with the e-waste that is properly recycled? What metals and other materials does electronics recycling recover?

With the current e-waste recycling habits around the world, only 15% of the gold in e-waste is recycled. Also, 15% of the silver and 5% of the platinum are recycled. For every million cellphones that are recycled, 33 pounds of palladium, 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, and 35,274 pounds of copper are recovered. Add in circuit boards that are a rich source of ore.

In addition to the metals, e-waste recycling recovers plastics and glass. They can contain nickel, lead, and mercury (up to 2 grams per phone), all of which can cause a lot of harm to humans and animals if they leach into soil or groundwater.

E-Waste Pollutes Land, Water, and Air

E-waste is a major pollutant, so it must be processed responsibly to limit the impact on water, air, and soil. When you choose an e-waste recycling company with certifications from organizations like e-Stewards, NAID, and R2, you’re taking steps to ensure e-waste is responsibly recycled in the U.S.

ERI does not send anything overseas. Items are recycled in an environmentally-responsible manner to protect workers, the environment, and communities in areas where ERI facilities are located.

If everyone does their part, recycling rates can improve. It helps to educate yourself on the best ways to recycle your unwanted electronics. Here are a few options that suit most households and businesses.

  • Bring items to Best Buy, Staples, or a local recycling center.
  • Donate usable items to Goodwill.
  • Use mail-back programs with tech companies and online retailers.

When you recycle your items with us through programs with Best Buy, Staples, and even our postage-paid recycling boxes, your e-waste will not end up in the wrong hands or cause harm to communities’ soil, air, and water. Our household recycling programs and drop-off boxes aren’t the only options. For businesses that need the utmost in security, we can even come to your office to pick up items and destroy data before they leave your hands.