In a new report by WEEE, in just 2021, the weight of all electronic and electrical waste exceeded the heaviest artificial object in the world, the Great Wall of China. And e-waste is expected to increase each year by two million tonnes.
This presents challenges for both recycling infrastructure (or the lack of it) and landfills. There’s simply too much waste forming on a yearly basis, and less than 20% of it is being recycled each year.
Not only is this bad for the environment, but it is also a waste of resources that can be reused.
Why Is There So Much Electronic Waste?
Technology is continuing to advance at an alarming rate, and many individuals try to keep up by buying the latest gadgets.
For instance, most people have a smartphone in their pocket. The average lifespan of a smartphone is about 2-4 years. And in just the United States, there are 290 million smartphone users. That means tens of millions of phones are replaced each year.
In many cases, the phones are designed to fail after two years, with the most infamous example being iPhones.
Of course, this is only one type of electronic. While other devices like televisions, game consoles, computers, and more have longer lifespans, many families own multiple.
And many of these devices are being abandoned en mass.
For instance, remember when everyone switched from standard definition to HD televisions, or more recently from HD to 4K? That’s a lot of electronic waste.
To make matter worse, this isn’t just reserved for traditional electronic devices. Did you know that 35% of new vehicles are comprised of electronics? Electronics are in everything and the waste is piling up.
That Waste Is Worth A Lot of Money
A previous report from 2019 valued electronic waste to be worth $62.5 billion. That’s more than some nations!
Yet, around 80% of that waste is buried in a landfill. Most electronics contain valuable resources that will become harder to find by the end of the century. And most are fully recyclable, so the real question is why is so little recycled?
Well, to put it simply, the recycling system in the US and the rest of the world isn’t very good. Most nations lack the infrastructure needed to even manage their own waste.
In fact, richer nations, tend to send that waste to other countries as some of them have much lower standards.
Yet, there appears to be so much incentive for these countries to develop and improve the current recycling system. So the question is why don’t they?
While the value of this waste is high, it isn’t high enough. For instance, a nation like the US, which has a large amount of e-waste each year, would be a great place to have more centers available. But they don’t manufacture the goods that use it.
Instead, they would need to pay for infrastructure, then ship the recycled material to other countries. While it might end up being slightly profitable at some point, it won’t at first. Thus, you don’t see nations trying to do this.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.