In 2021, the global e-waste recycling market reached $3.6 billion. It’s expected to double to $7.3 billion in the next decade. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal was approved in June and will change how hazardous waste is handled. Some e-waste will no longer be allowed to go to countries that are party to the Convention.
This is important as the U.S. is not a party to the Basel Convention, so it will greatly restrict where e-waste containing cadmium, lead, mercury, or polychlorinated biphenyls can go for repair, refurbishment, or upgrades. By 2025, all non-hazardous e-waste will no longer be allowed to ship from the U.S. to any Basel Convention country. The only exception will be between the U.S. and Canada and countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, including Belgium and Japan. For e-waste to go to these countries, prior informed consent (PIC) must be given.
That’s a global change that will be taking place over the next few years. How about the different countries? Per the Global E-Waste Monitor in 2020, generated e-waste still outpaces the amount of e-waste that’s documented and properly recycled.
- Asia – 24.9 metric tons (Mt) generated and 2.9 Mt recycled (11.7% recycling rate)
- North and South America – 13.1 Mt generated and 1.2 Mt recycled (9.4% recycling rate)
- Europe – 12 Mt generated and 5.1 Mt recycled (42.5% recycling rate)
- Africa – 2.9 Mt generated and 0.03 Mt recycled (0.9% recycling rate)
- Oceania – 0.7 Mt generated and 0.06 Mt generated (8.8% recycling rate)
Change is still needed. What countries are taking steps to address e-waste through updated policies or by putting e-waste legislation in place in 2022?
The European Union
Countries that are part of the E.U. must start phasing out electronics that use micro-USB or other non-USB-C cables for charging. It’s a small change, but one that is designed to lower the amount of cable e-waste per person. For phones like the iPhone that use different types of connections, the options are to change to a USB-C or switch entirely to Qi charging and eliminate the need for cables.
This idea is catching on. In June, Brazil’s government proposed the same change. It’s currently undergoing public discussion.
India drafted a new e-waste policy that is expected to go into effect later in 2022. If it does, by 2025, businesses will need to properly recycle a minimum of 80% of their e-waste. By 2023 and 2024, businesses will have to recycle at least 60% and 70%, respectively. Companies that fail to meet these percentages will pay “Environment Compensation” fines.
Another change in India involves a committee that has been created to look at the “right to repair.” Meaning that consumers would have the right to repair electronics wherever they want rather than having to work with the manufacturer. If people can repair electronics without a hassle, they’re more likely to keep using them.
Pakistan is one of the dozens of countries without solid e-waste programs in place. Until recently, e-waste was issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) in order to enter the country. There was no standardized policy on the NOCs, as local environmental protection agencies had their own rules. When more than 600 containers of e-waste were dumped on the shores of Pakistan and no one knew who did it, it became clear changes needed to be made.
The country is working on establishing e-waste policies during 2022 to create standard guidelines for all districts to follow and to create environmentally-friendly e-waste systems. Until then, all NOCs have been suspended.
Many countries in Africa do not have plans in place. Rwanda is one of 13 African countries with e-waste legislation. The country’s first e-waste facility opened in 2020 and they’re adding collection centers to ensure there is one in every district in the country.
The United Kingdom’s Mint is located in Wales, and that became the focal point for a new e-waste facility that will open in 2023. Instead of relying on high temperatures to extract precious metals from e-waste, it extracts more than 99% of the gold, silver, and other precious metals from laptops and cellphones at room temperature. Once extracted, the metals can be used to make new currency. This new facility will process up to 90 Mt of e-waste each week.
The United States
Despite what people might think, there is no e-waste legislation in place by the federal government. It’s up to individual states to enact legislation. New York recently passed updates to the 2010 Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act to make it easier for people to recycle electronics and to make producers of electronics responsible for the costs of setting up e-waste recycling programs.
In June, the EPA announced $375 in funding for infrastructure to help develop and improve recycling and reuse programs. It’s been three decades since investments in recycling of this size were made. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law aims to improve battery recycling, help communities establish or improve recycling facilities, help educate people about what can and cannot be recycled, and help push a circular economy.
The America Competes Act is awaiting Congress to pass it. If it does, it will boost employment opportunities by banning the exportation of e-waste. All e-waste would be processed in the U.S. by facilities that focus on protecting the environment, workers, and communities.
Not every e-waste recycling firm in the U.S. is currently ready for the change that the Basel Convention passed. So, what can businesses do to ensure their e-waste isn’t disposed of illegally? If you want to ensure your e-waste is recycled or refurbished in a secure, environmentally responsible manner, you need to partner with a facility that holds e-Stewards and R2 certifications. ERI holds those certifications and many others.
How about consumers? If you live in a town or state where e-waste recycling is on pause or something you find confusing, what can you do? Bring unwanted electronics to retailers like Best Buy and Staples for proper recycling. Best Buy has a new program called Stand-Alone Haul Away where people can pay just under $200 and have two large appliances and unlimited small ones hauled away for recycling. It’s a handy way to get rid of a lot of items at once without having to leave your home. Items travel to ERI for responsible recycling in the U.S.
ERI processes all e-waste in the U.S. in one of our eight facilities. Nothing goes overseas, and you’re able to track items from the moment they leave your business. If needed, we come to your place of business to destroy data before electronic items even leave your possession. If a higher level of data destruction is needed, you can watch the destruction occur in real-time. We work with you to ensure items are destroyed and recycled in a manner that matches your needs.