Global E-waste Generation Reaches Record High in 2019, Could Reach 74.7 Million Metric Tons by 2030

In June, the Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) released The Global E-waste Monitor 2020,  which examined the quantities, flows, and circular economy potential of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) across the planet. The report also includes national and regional analysis on
e-waste quantities and legislative instruments.

Cover of Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report

GESP was founded in 2017 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations University (UNU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). Its objectives are to monitor developments of e-waste over time, and help countries to produce e-waste statistics, which in turn will inform policymakers, industries, academia, media, and the general public by enhancing the understanding and interpretation of global e-waste data and its relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to the report, in 2019, the world generated 53.6 million metric tons (Mt, or Megatoone; see https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Glossary:Megatonne_(Mt) and http://www.onlineconversion.com/faq_09.htm for explanations on units) of e-waste. This is an average of 7.3 kg (a little over 16 lbs) per capita, and represents a 21% increase in generation within 5 years. Further, the global generation of e-waste grew by 9.2 Mt since 2014 and is projected to grow to 74.7 Mt by 2030–this means the amount of e-waste generated will almost double in only 16 years.  Just 17.4% of the e-waste generated in 2019 was officially recycled, through formal recycling programs.

Additional findings include:

  • “The fate of 82.6% (44.3 Mt) of e-waste generated in 2019 is uncertain, and its whereabouts and the environmental impact varies across the different regions…In middle- and low-income countries… e-waste is managed mostly by the informal sector.”
  • “Since 2014, the number of countries that have adopted a national e-waste policy, legislation, or regulation has increased from 61 to 78.”
  • “E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFR), and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). The increasing levels of e-waste, low collection rates, and non-environmentally sound disposal and treatment of this waste stream pose significant risks to the environment and to human health. A total of 50 t of mercury and 71 kt of BFR plastics are found in globally undocumented flows of e-waste annually, which is largely released into the environment and impacts the health of the exposed workers.”
  • “Improper management of e-waste also contributes to global warming.” (Note that outside the US,  the term “e-waste” or “WEEE” includes electrical equipment, such as air conditioners and refrigerators, which contain refrigerants that are greenhouse gases, whereas in the US, “e-waste” tends to refer to computers and peripherals, cell phones, printers, televisions, and similar electronics.)
  • “The value of raw materials in the global e-waste generated in 2019 is equal to approximately $57
    billion USD.”

The authors state, “In summary, it is essential to substantially increase the officially documented 17.4% global e-waste collection and recycling rate, especially in view of the rapid growth of this waste stream, which is already projected to reach 74.7 Mt by 2030, combined with increasing recovery of materials towards closed material loops and reducing the use of virgin materials.”

You may download the complete report at https://globalewaste.org/news/surge-global-waste/.

See also this analysis by Justine Calma for The Verge, July 2, 2020:  https://www.theverge.com/21309776/record-amount-ewaste-2019-global-report-environment-health.  Highlights from this article include:

  • “Small electronics — like video cameras, electronic toys, toasters, and electric shavers — made up the biggest chunk of 2019’s e-waste (about 32 percent). The next largest piece of the pie (24 percent) was made up of large equipment like kitchen appliances and copy machines. This group includes discarded solar panels, which aren’t a huge problem yet but could pose issues as the relatively new technology gets older. Screens and monitors created about half as much trash as large equipment but still amounted to close to 7 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019. Small IT and telecommunications equipment like phones added up to about 5 million metric tons of trash.”  
  • “The growing mounds of e-waste are only getting more complex and more toxic, according to Scott Cassel, who founded the nonprofit Product Stewardship Institute. ‘Electronic companies do a great job of designing for pleasure and efficiency, but the rapid change in consumer demand also means that they’re designing for obsolescence. So today’s newest, coolest product becomes tomorrow’s junk,’ Cassel says.”

Mail-In Programs Offer Contactless Electronics Recycling to US Businesses, Residents

As societies across the globe continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many US counties and municipalities, as well as recycling businesses and retail collection points, have either suspended electronics recycling programs or greatly modified procedures to protect the health of their staff and the public.  For example, Best Buy has suspended its popular recycling service, the spring electronics collection in Champaign County (IL) had to be canceled, and although Will County (IL) electronics collections continue to operate, they do so with certain guidelines to minimize interpersonal contact.

In response to our changing realities, some companies are offering new mail-in programs to help residents and businesses responsibly manage their electronics at end-of-life while exercising caution and maintaining social distancing.

TERRA (The Electronics Reuse and Recycling Alliance) offers mail-in residential electronics recycling through its “Done with IT” program. Through this program, consumers can purchase pre-paid mailing labels for a given weight of acceptable items. Unwanted electronics can then be packed in reused boxes (the program does not provide packaging) and shipped via UPS. This service is available throughout much of North America–see their service map for details.  The program works with certified electronics recyclers to ensure data security for participants. The Done with IT program existed pre-pandemic but has continued to expand to new locations during the pandemic.

ERI has recently launched a mail-in recycling box program applicable to both residential and business electronic scrap. Like the Done with IT program, shipments are made via UPS, but unlike the Done with IT program, boxes are shipped flat to the consumer for use, and service is available for all 50 states.  From the press release related to the program:

ERI, the nation’s leading fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company currently provides the only NAID, R2, and e-Stewards certified secure-at-home (or office) box program in the United States. The program provides contactless, transparent delivery and pickup. All collected electronics are responsibly recycled and all data is securely destroyed. ERI’s home and business electronics recycling box program is available to individuals and businesses in all 50 states, at every zip code in the country…The boxes are shipped flat directly to the customer with an included return label. Customers can then assemble, fill, and return the boxes whenever convenient, with a simple call to ERI’s logistics partner, UPS.

Of course, other mail-in options for certain types of electronic materials existed before the pandemic and continue. Call2Recycle and Battery Solutions, for example, both offer battery recycling programs. TerraCycle has locations available for its free electronics recycling program.

Consumers should check with their local recycling coordinators to determine whether electronics recycling solutions exist in their area. Mail-in programs such as these may be particularly helpful in areas where local options are limited or temporarily suspended.

SERI Announces Next Version of R2 Electronics Recycling Standard

SERI is the housing body and ANSI-accredited Standards Development Organization for the R2 Standard, which is one of two accredited certification standards available for electronics recycling facilities (the other is e-Stewards; see https://www.epa.gov/smm-electronics/certified-electronics-recyclers#01 for more information on those standards and certified electronics recyclers). SERI recently announced that R2v3, the next version of the R2 Standard, was unanimously adopted by their board, and will be available for download from their web site on July 1, 2020.

See https://sustainableelectronics.org/r2v3 for further information, including Image of document page, highlighting five of the proposed changes in the new R2v3 standard.information on the transition process for R2 certified facilities, the development process for the new standard, public comments, and the differences between the previous and new versions of the standard. Highlights of the proposed changes can also be found at  https://sustainableelectronics.org/sites/default/files/Highlights%20Sheet%20-%20DRAFT%202%20%202019.12.20.pdf (the first page of this three-page document is pictured here).

Large UK Retailers Required to Take-Back Electronics In-Store Starting January 2021

In the January 7, 2020 edition of Resource Magazine, Imogen Benson reported on new requirements for UK retailers regarding waste electronics and electrical equipment, aka WEEE, which includes not only computers and devices that people in the US typically consider “electronics,” but also appliances and white goods–items with a cord, essentially.

From the article:

“The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has approved the fifth phase of its Distributor Takeback Scheme (DTS) for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), confirming that the DTS will cease to be applicable for larger retailers by the end of 2020. Under the UK WEEE Regulations, retailers must ensure that their customers are able to return unwanted electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) on a like-for-like basis when they purchase new items. The fourth phase of the DTS, which came to an end on 31 December 2019, allowed retailers to pay a fee to cover these recycling obligations, providing funds for local authority WEEE collection schemes at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) and civic amenity sites. Under the new system, larger retailers with an excess of £100,000 of turnover in sales of EEE will no longer be able to join the DTS from 31 December 2020, but will instead be obliged to provide in-store take-back facilities from January 2021. Smaller stores and online retailers will be exempt from the changes.”

Read the full story at https://resource.co/article/large-retailers-will-have-offer-store-weee-take-back-2021.

Green Electronics Council Seminar and Workshop: Leveraging Technology and Procurement

On Thursday, June 13, 2019, San Diego State University and the Green Electronics Council are co-sponsoring a full day event focused on sharing lessons learned, tools and best practices with a focus on leveraging procurement and technology towards sustainability. This seminar and workshop is applicable to members of college and university sustainability teams, procurement staff and those responsible for high-performing or “green” buildings on campus.

Participation in this full-day seminar and workshop is free for higher education staff. Registration is required. For the agenda, speaker information, session details, and to register, visit https://greenelectronicscouncil.org/june_13_workshop/.

Video Illustrates Materials Used in Smartphones and Amounts

Check out the video below from the Sustainable Earth Institute of the University of Plymouth (in the UK).

Besides allowing one to vicariously experience childish glee at watching the destruction of a smartphone by blender (which we of course should NOT try at home), the video provides a brief glimpse at the process of analyzing materials in a lab. Most importantly, it does an excellent job of helping viewers visualize the relative amounts of materials present in the phone, including coins for comparison to a familiarly-sized object (few of us know what 0.7 g or 10 mg really looks like without a reference object for comparison).

The video goes a step further by providing a visualization of the relative amounts of those component elements which would be present in a year’s worth of smartphone production, with a human figure and soccer pitch provided for reference. It’s a great example of how to effectively translate abstract statistics into accessible, meaningful information for the general public.

This would be excellent for presentation to students of all ages, as part of discussions related to industrial design, materials sourcing and impacts, why reclamation of materials from electronics is so important, etc.

To read the full post on this video and the scientists behind it ( Dr. Arjan Dijkstra and Dr. Colin Wilkins, geologists from the University’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences ), see https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/news/scientists-use-a-blender-to-reveal-whats-in-our-smartphones.

 

Nova Scotia Expands Extended Producer Responsibility, Bans Certain Electronics From Landfill

The Canadian province of Nova Scotia has announced expansions of extended producer responsibility laws, rolling out landfill bans for for the following items, effective March 1, 2020:

  • microwaves
  • e-book readers
  • GPS devices
  • video game systems and controllers
  • external hard drives, optical drives, and modems
  • used oil, oil filters, and oil containers
  • glycol, which is a coolant, and glycol containers

Affected industries must develop or expand recycling programs for these products, and be ready with programs by January 1, 2020.

Read the full announcement here: https://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20190206001.

You can also visit the web site of the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), which has been running Nova Scotia’s electronics recycling program for the past 10 years. EPRA will expand its program to recycle the new products. https://epra.ca/

Logo of the Province of Nova ScotiaElectronic Products Recycling Association logo

iFixit Begins Regular Right to Repair Podcast With Live YouTube Event

On January 31, 2019, iFixit hosted a live event on its YouTube channel, providing an overview of the Right to Repair movement including input from movement leaders Nathan Proctor, Gay Gordon-Byrne, and Jessa Jones.  You can watch the recorded livestream at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-zU8f_olwU&feature=youtu.be, or download it from https://www.buzzsprout.com/252243/939881 or from iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-right-to-repair-podcast/id1451251273.

According to the iFixit blog, “The coalition at Repair.org has been hard at work getting 15 states to introduce Right to Repair bills so far this year. But just like any grassroots movement, they need as much support as they can get—which is why we started a podcast to help spread the word! Every other week, we’ll be gathering special guests to update you on the latest Right to Repair news. You’ll hear stories about the fixers fighting for fair repair legislation, learn how to start a coalition in your state, and get tips for talking to your state representatives…Future episodes will focus on specific Right to Repair issues, so leave a note in the comments telling us what topics and guests you’d like us to feature!

The next broadcast is scheduled for Thursday, February 14th at 11 AM PST (1 PM CST) on the iFixit YouTube Channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/iFixitYourself. If you participate in the live event, you’ll get the chance to ask the presenters your questions about repair and associated legislation. Again, the video will be recorded for later viewing on YouTube and the audio will be shared on their social accounts the following day.

Illinois is one of the states that has previously introduced Right to Repair bills. For more information on the Right to Repair movement, see the Repair Association’s web site, https://repair.org/, and also check out posts tagged “Right to Repair” on the Illini Gadget Garage blog: http://illini-gadget-garage.istc.illinois.edu/tag/right-to-repair/.

Right to Repair advocacy image
Right to Repair advocacy image from Repair.org

3D Printing Potential Negative Impacts–Five Resources

Additive manufacturing, more commonly referred to as 3D printing, is an increasingly widespread technology in schools, libraries, and other public makerspaces, often seen as a part of STEAM education. Manufacturers and innovators see the technology as means to create products or necessary items cheaply and relatively quickly, and in many cases with less waste of material than in other manufacturing processes–see for example, the MIT Technology Review article on GE’s use of additive manufacturing to produce fuel nozzles for aircraft engines. In developing nations, 3D printing can offer a means to more easily provide items that add to quality of life at a lower cost than typical. For example, the Victoria Hand project 3D prints prosthetics to assist amputees. 

With so much positive potential, what could possibly be the downsides of 3D printing?  While negative impacts might not be immediately obvious, sustainability advocates must always consider all potential impacts of a technology, product, or action, both positive and negative. The following resources are a good start for considering the often overlooked potential negative impacts of 3D printing.

  • The Health Effects of 3D Printing. This October 2016 article from American Libraries Magazine discusses exposure to ultrafine particles (UFPs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the risks of bacterial growth in small fissures found within 3D printed objects. The authors provide some very basic tips for reducing risks to patrons and library staff members.
  • 3-D printing: A Boon or Bane? Though a bit dated, this article by Robert Olson, a senior fellow at the Institute for Alternative Futures in Alexandria, VA, in the November/December 2013 issue of the Environmental Forum (the policy journal of the Environmental Law Institute) does a good job of outlining some of the issues that need to be considered when assessing the impacts or appropriateness of this technology. “How efficient are these technologies in the use of materials and energy? What materials are used and what are the worker exposure and environmental impacts? Does the design of printed objects reduce end-of-life options? Does more localized production reduce the carbon footprint? And will simplicity and ubiquity cause us to overprint things, just as we do with paper?
  • The dark side of 3D printing: 10 things to watch. This 2014 article by Lyndsey Gilpin for Tech Republic concisely outlines ten potential negative impacts, such as the reliance on plastics, including some that may not have occurred to you, such as IP and licensing issues, bioethics, and national security. Note the mention of 3D printed guns, which have been in the news a fair amount during 2018.
  • 3-D printer emissions raise concerns and prompt controls. This March 26, 2018 article by Janet Pelley in Chemical & Engineering News focuses on potential negative health impacts of inhaling VOCs and plastic particles. “Although the government has set workplace standards for a few of the VOCs released by 3-D printers, these are for healthy working-age adults in industrial settings such as tire or plastic manufacturing plants: None of the compounds is regulated in homes or libraries where 3-D printers might be used by sensitive populations such as children. Furthermore, researchers don’t know the identity of most of the compounds emitted by printers. “Scientists know that particles and VOCs are bad for health, but they don’t have enough information to create a regulatory standard for 3-D printers,” says Marina E. Vance, an environmental engineer at the University of Colorado, Boulder. What’s more, data from early studies of 3-D printer emissions are difficult to use in developing standards because of variability in the test conditions, says Rodney J. Weber, an aerosol chemist at Georgia Institute of Technology. Two years ago, UL, an independent safety certification company, established an advisory board and began funding research projects to answer basic questions about the amounts and types of compounds in 3-D printer emissions, what levels are safe, and how to minimize exposures, says Marilyn S. Black, a vice president at UL. The company is working to create a consistent testing and evaluation method so that researchers will be able to compare data across different labs. ‘By this fall we will put out an ANSI [American National Standards Institute] standard for measuring particles and VOCs for everyone to use,” she says. See the UL Additive Manufacturing pages“, specifically the “library” section for their currently available safety publications.
  • 3D Printing and the Environment: The Implications of Additive Manufacturing. This special issue of Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology from November 2017 is the least “layperson friendly” resource provided in this post, but includes a variety of research articles providing important insights into its environmental, energy, and health impacts.

Live Demo of New Mobile Phone Environmental Benefits Calculator 9/19/18

The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, most commonly simply called EPEAT, is a product registry to help purchasers identify electronic devices with positive environmental attributes. Manufacturers and retailers can use the registry to highlight product offerings which meet criteria addressing materials selection, design for product longevity, reuse and recycling, energy conservation, end-of-life management and corporate performance. EPEAT was developed with a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is managed by the Green Electronics Council (GEC) .

The EPEAT registry has long included computers (including laptops and tablets) and displays, imaging equipment (e.g. printers, copiers, fax machines, scanners, multifunction devices, etc.), and televisions. Mobile phones were recently added, and servers are the latest product category addition.

The GEC is developing a new Environmental Benefits Calculator that measures the environmental and cost benefits of purchasing sustainable EPEAT-registered products. The new calculator will launch for the mobile phone category in September. The calculator will expand to include servers and the updated Computer and Display category by the end of the year.

Purchasers are invited to join GEC’s Patty Dillon, Acting Director of EPEAT Category Development, on September 19th for a live demonstration of the Mobile Phone Environmental Benefits Calculator. Learn how to use the calculator to quantify the sustainability benefits of purchasing EPEAT-registered IT products, as well as how to estimate savings resulting from extended use and recycling of those devices.

The free live demo will take place Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018 from 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM CDT. Register at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3613264982148557571.