E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in both developed and developing countries – albeit at different rates per region. Reusing, recycling and properly disposing of electronic waste is key to a sustainable future, and to ensuring essential raw materials do not run out. However, if e-waste recycling efforts are not tracked and reported in a compliant, systematic manner by certified recycling companies, large amounts of waste may end up being processed without proper monitoring or governance.
Based on previous research reports, the amount of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) discarded globally is expected to increase significantly in coming years. According to research* carried out for the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), global e-scrap generation will reach some 53.9
million tonnes by 2025. In 2016, this was at 41.2 million tonnes – an annual growth rate of just over 3 percent. Taking a rising global population into account, per capita e-scrap generation could climb some 20 percent worldwide from 5.6 kg per year in 2016, to 6.7 kg in 2025.
Scrap generation will increase across all regions.
On average, the largest amount of e-scrap per inhabitant was generated in the United States, Canada and Western Europe in 2016. The Asia and Pacific countries, however, with low to moderate generation per inhabitant (3.6 kg), create the largest amount of e-scrap in the world.
Nearly 40 percent of all global e-scrap is generated in this region, which is expected to be producing more used and end-of-life electronic scrap than any other – including North America and Western Europe combined – by 2025. In that year, APAC e-scrap generation per inhabitant is expected to have
reached 5 kg, up from 3.6 kg in 2016.
More reporting and regulation is needed.
The United Nations University Global e-waste monitor* also emphasizes the high levels of e-waste generated in Asia, and mentions the fact that China generates the world’s largest amount of e-waste quantity (7.2 Million Metric tonnes, which could grow to 27 Million Metric tonnes by 2030).
A large majority of e-waste worldwide is managed outside official take-back systems, and data regarding its transboundary movement is not being documented. According to the UN report, some 34.1 million metric tonnes of e-waste generated worldwide in 2016 went untraced and unreported.
Globally e-waste volumes are high, but recycling is low.
The UN report claims that e-waste volumes continue to grow, but not enough is being recycled. In 2016, only 20 percent of 44.7 million metric tonnes (Mt) of generated e-waste was recycled through the correct channels.
66 percent of the world’s population is covered by e-waste legislation, but more must be done to stimulate e-waste policies. The report also highlights the lack of reliable e-waste data at the country level, with just 41 countries around the world collecting international statistics on e-waste.
Cheap solutions may not be responsible options.
A large contributor to e-scrap going unreported might result from companies seeking low-cost solutions for electronics disposal. Often inexpensive disposal options cause products to end up incinerated or disposed of in a landfill where in both cases valuable materials are likely not recovered and recycled into new products.
Additionally, these products are at risk of improper depollution which creates concerns for the environment and workers involved.
A third potential risk involves data security. Many electronic products hold company data. Best practices for preventing data breaches involve securely eradicating all stored data. This will also ensure the safety of the company’s reputation.
The risk this situation will grow is real due to the fact the composition of electronics products is changing rapidly. The amount of plastics is already increasing significantly and the number of products with built-in batteries also.
This makes it more costly to process equipment up to industry certifications, which incorporate all required safety and environmental standards.
Reuse: Items should be resold, with the client’s permission
When e-waste products are sold to developing countries as ‘second-hand’ goods, risks can present themselves if suitable processing capabilities do not exist.
In some cases, products are resold without the customer’s permission. If these items contain data or asset tags, this can lead to significant reputational damage for brands and companies.
Often, unauthorized resale results from the customer supplying e-waste, choosing the least expensive solution without knowing exactly what kind of service to expect.
Reusing electronic products, in general, is great and makes a positive contribution to the circular economy. Circular models help avoid depleting finite raw material resources. Companies committed to supporting the circular economy, like Sims Recycling Solutions (Sims), help drive these initiatives by,
- Keeping resources in use for as long as possible,
- Extracting maximum value from those resources while in use, and
- Recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of their useful life.
It would be helpful for companies and governments to take responsibility for their e-waste and choose a vendor based on credentials, audit-able and demonstrable processes, and commitment to environmentally-responsible recycling, not on price alone.
When selecting an e-waste processor it is best to ensure they will provide you with,
- Guaranteed data destruction, as well as a secure chain of custody,
- Environmentally-friendly reuse and recycling,
- Compliance with corporate mandates and regulatory requirements,
- Fulfillment of corporate sustainability goals,
- An understanding of how employees, subcontractors and vendors are properly vetted.
Any responsible e-waste recycling company should be able to present all certifications and demonstrate how products are processed. This allows customers to demonstrate they have fed products into an official recycling route.