Dreamstime Images
Dreamstime L 18967599

Finding New Ways to Reduce the World’s Growing E-Waste Problem

May 24, 2023
Growing at a rate of two million metric tonnes annually, the world’s e-waste problem is getting attention as organizations seek out new ways to address it.

Download this article in PDF format.

Did you know that…

  • 57.4 Mt (Million Metric Tonnes) of e-waste was generated in 2021, and that the total is growing by an average of two Mt annually?  
  • There’s over 347 Mt of unrecycled e-waste on earth in 2023?
  • China, the U.S. and India produce the most e-waste?

These are just some of the shocking e-waste facts that should make individuals, companies, governments and other organizations think twice before tossing that broken TV, outdated cell phone or piece of obsolete computer equipment into the regular trash bin.

Discarded electrical or electronic devices and used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal are all considered e-waste. This type of waste contains valuable materials such as aluminum, copper, gold, palladium and silver. It also contains harmful substances like cadmium, lead and mercury.

“In the absence of proper awareness, disposing e-waste in landfills can result in toxic emissions to the air, water and soil and pose serious health and environmental hazards,” GN Electronics points out.

Just 17.4% of E-Waste is Disposed of Properly

Unfortunately, just 17.4% of e-waste is actually ever collected and properly recycled, according to TheRoundUp.org. While Estonia, Norway and Iceland have the highest e-waste recycling rates, the World Economic Forum says that the 83% of e-waste that’s not being collected and disposed of properly is a huge missed opportunity for the circular economy.

“To take advantage of this opportunity, the world must address concerns people have about surrendering electronic products that may contain sensitive information,” WEF points out. “Incentives or regulations may also be required to increase e-waste recycling rates.”

Refurbishment, remanufacturing and reuse are also seen as viable ways to cut down on the world’s growing pile of e-waste. In April, Earth911 introduced a new technology refurbishment program that plants 20 mangrove trees for each accepted mobile phone, tablet or laptop. The “eWaste for Trees” program was created to address e-waste in a sustainable way while also promoting reuse to extend a device’s useful life.

“By planting 20 trees for every device accepted for refurbishing, the program helps offset carbon emissions and restore ecosystems,” Earth911 said in a press release. “By refurbishing devices, the program helps reduce the demand for new devices, reducing the volume of raw materials needed to manufacture them. 

The Earth911 eWaste for Trees program is offered through a partnership with Donor Connection, which refurbishes technology to be reused, extending the device’s useful life to reduce its carbon footprint and the need to mine, process and ship raw materials for use in manufacturing new devices. It also contributes part of the sale price of refurbished devices to support a growing list of charities, making it a win-win for both the environment and the community. Carbon project and tree-planting organization Veritree is also a partner in this effort.

Once their devices are accepted, participants receive a digital device passport via email that documents how, if any personal data remained on the device, it was securely destroyed. It also provides a follow-up report about what happened to the device, whether it was refurbished or responsibly recycled with an e-Stewards-certified facility.

“The passport provides transparency so people can recycle their devices with confidence, knowing that their data is safe and that their devices are disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner,” the organization says.

Big Tech Steps up to the Plate

Technology and electronics manufacturers are also doing their part to help reduce e-waste and encourage recycling and reuse of their devices and equipment. According to MITECHNEWS.COM, many tech companies are promoting recycling by establishing comprehensive recycling programs for their electronic products.

For example, Apple’s recycling program, Apple Trade-In, allows customers to trade in their old devices for credit towards a new purchase or an Apple Store Gift Card. Apple then ensures that these devices are recycled responsibly, adhering to the highest environmental standards. Samsung’s Galaxy Upcycling program repurposes older devices into IoT devices or donates them to educational institutions, promoting recycling and reusability.

In another example, Google partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the latter of which promotes the circular economy. “This collaboration helps Google integrate circular economy principles into its operations, including the design, manufacturing and recycling of its devices,” MITECHNEWS.COM reports. “Moreover, tech giants are also working with governments to support the establishment of e-waste management infrastructure, such as recycling facilities, which enable better processing of electronic waste.”

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Supply Chain Connect, create an account today!

About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.