E-waste is the waste that results from electrical and electronic equipment (such as mobile phones, laptops, TVs, lamps, and kitchen appliances) when it is disposed.
🌱 How much e-waste is produced?
Upwards of 50 million tons of e-waste is produced every year. E-waste is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream. It is estimated that by 2030, the annual generation of e-waste worldwide will have increased by approximately 30%.
🌱 How much e-waste is produced from small e-devices each year?
In 2019, the UN estimated that worldwide over 22 million tonnes of e-waste were produced from small electrical and electronic devices. In other words, 40% of the 57 million tonnes of all e-waste globally result from small devices. There is annually a 3% increase both in the quantity of small devices used and in the total amount of e-waste produced. By 2030, it is therefore estimated that there will be 29 million tonnes of e-waste from small devices.
🌱 What issues and possibilities are linked to the disposal of small e-devices?
Many small electrical and electronic devices – such as mobile phones, cameras, toasters, and electric toothbrushes – are currently being disposed of incorrectly. Annually, Europeans throw up to 1.4 kg of e-waste per person into the general waste. By volume, small devices make up 8% of all the e-waste that is thrown into waste bins and subsequently lands in landfills or incinerators. Moreover, many small devices are stored instead of recycled. It is common for small devices to be forgotten in drawers, cupboards, garages, basements, or attics. In an average European household, up to 5 kg of small devices per person are laying around unrecycled. Small devices contain important and valuable raw materials. If they are recycled properly, these raw materials can be extracted and reused – which is key to transitioning over to a sustainable and circular economy.
🌱 What social and environmental justice issues are linked to e-waste?
The production of e-waste and its transboundary movement from high-income to low- and middle-income nations brings about a whole spectrum of social and environmental justice issues. Key issues include labor exploitation, soil and groundwater contamination, and premature deaths. Notably, the recycling of e-waste under inadequate conditions in low- and middle-income nations has immensely negative impacts on the health of both the local environment and human beings. The human health issues linked to e-waste include lung and respiratory illnesses, impaired thyroid function, DNA damage, and increased risk of chronic diseases (such as cancer and cardiovascular disease).
🌱 Why is it important that we talk about e-waste in the context of the energy transition?
The transition over to low-carbon energy currently relies heavily on minerals – such as copper, lithium, and cobalt – which are needed for renewable technologies, electrification, and to build up battery capacity to store the produced renewable energy. How e-waste is recycled plays a role in the availability of these minerals and in how responsible the supply chains in the energy transition are.