In this article, we will look at e-waste, its hidden worth, and companies that effectively manage this type of garbage.
What is E-Waste?
Any old or abandoned electronic equipment is referred to as e-waste, sometimes known as electronic or electric garbage. Electronic waste also includes used equipment that is ready to be sold, reused, recycled, or disposed of.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency categorizes e-waste as large household appliances, small household appliances, IT equipment, consumer electronics, lamps and luminaires, toys, tools, automatic dispensers, monitoring and control devices, and medical devices.
Electronic garbage is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the modern digital era. According to the United Nations Global E-Waste Monitor 2020, global e-waste would reach 74.7 million metric tonnes by 2030. Because these figures are so large, the capacity to recycle or simply dispose of this trash becomes constrained. As a result, the majority of it ends up in landfills, harming the environment.
E-Waste Is ‘Valuable’
According to a Research And Markets research, the global market for electronics recycling was valued at $39.8 billion in 2022 and is predicted to expand to $110.6 billion by 2030, at a compound yearly growth rate of 13.6% during the forecast period.
Although e-waste is developing faster than plastic or textile waste, it contains a lot of value. The raw materials used in electrical equipment can be worth billions of dollars. Platinum, tin, iron, gold, silver, copper, and aluminum are among these basic elements. There has been a demand for e-waste due to the high cost of metal manufacturing for the first time and the chance to re-explore rich metals inside discarded gadgets.
According to the Boston Consulting Group, the United States loses about $10 billion in unaccounted for e-waste each year. Companies can earn a ‘green premium’ by recycling their customers’ discarded merchandise. This green premium represents the additional cost and customer willingness to invest in an environmentally sustainable product. According to BCG, about 80% of Gen Z buyers view sustainability as a critical factor before making any purchase. Thus, marketing a waste reduction campaign can assist in acquiring and retaining a large number of customers.
By being more ecologically responsible, the value stored in e-waste can also be recovered. The emissions produced by recycling used equipment are still lower than those produced during original metal extraction. As a result, recycled e-waste has a lower carbon footprint.
Companies Realizing the Potential of E-Waste
Companies like Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Dell Technologies Inc. (NYSE:DELL), and Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) continue to unleash the potential of e-waste by effectively managing trash in the electronics sector.
One prudent approach to dealing with e-waste is to standardize electronic products so that there are fewer diverse types of electronic waste. In the EU, about 11,000 tonnes of unused chargers are discarded each year.
According to Reuters, the European Union has agreed to switch to a single type of charger for cellphones, the USB C-type, in an effort to reduce e-waste. According to the EU, this measure will reduce carbon emissions by over 200 kg. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been in a bind because this regulation must be implemented by 2024. Bloomberg claimed on July 30 that a major improvement in the next iPhone 15 will be the replacement of the lightning connector with the USB C type, thereby complying with the EU rule.
Another approach to gain from mountains of e-waste is to recycle it and reintroduce it into the tech supply chain. Corporations have taken an active role in recycling activities. Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has also started selling devices manufactured from recycled plastic and aluminum, such as the Amazon Echo, Fire TV, and tablets. According to the company’s customer support page, customers can either trade in their used goods for its gift card value, which includes a discount on a new Amazon item, or simply transport it to the designated recycling location for free. Waste360, a trash and recycling news service located in the United States, said on August 22 that the firm will construct a new e-waste recycling facility in Pennsylvania in 2024. This facility will refurbish and recycle electronic equipment utilized in the company’s data centers, decreasing e-waste.
Dell Technologies Inc. (NYSE:DELL) revealed in its 2023 Environmental, Social, and Governance report that company has vowed to manufacture products that are more than half recyclable. The corporation has also committed to introducing recyclable and renewable packaging.
E-waste is also prevalent in the vehicle industry. The black mass produced by recycling spent electric car batteries is gaining appeal since it aids in the extraction of metals such as nickel, cobalt, and lithium. On August 28, Bloomberg reported that Glencore plc (LSE:GLEN) of Switzerland has collaborated with Li-Cycle Holding Corp. (NYSE:LICY) of Canada to establish a European battery recycling plant. As a result, businesses are converting discarded electric car batteries into a profitable market.
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Imports of US E-Waste into China
According to a World Economic Forum report, just 20% of electronic waste gets recycled in rich countries, while 80% is deconstructed in underdeveloped countries. The United States is a major generator of e-waste. Due to the United Nations’ embargo on the trade of e-waste from industrialized to developing countries, the majority of this electronic debris passes through clandestine channels to China.
The United States exports significant quantities of discarded electronics to China. To minimize empty shipments, US shippers frequently allow e-waste recyclers to export the debris to China at affordable rates. The recycling of these imported electronics in China is a big informal enterprise. Although the Chinese government is enacting legislation prohibiting the importation of electronic waste, there are numerous loopholes. Hong Kong, which is not subject to many laws, imports enormous amounts of used electronics and resells them to China’s informal recyclers.
Although the Chinese recycling market for electronics employs many rural and low-income workers, it also exposes them to several risks. Because the disassembly is done by hand, workers are exposed to harmful compounds such as mercury, lead, and arsenic. If they are exposed to these hazardous compounds for an extended period of time, they may acquire respiratory problems. In short, China continues to establish a balance between the profits made from the informal recycling sector and the environmental damage caused by it.
Now that we’ve examined e-waste and its dynamics, let’s look at the 15 countries that generate the most e-waste in the world.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 26.0
Norway is the world’s greatest producer of e-waste, according to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2020. It produces the most rubbish per household in Europe on an annual basis. In 2019, the country generated 26 kilos of electronic waste per capita.
2. United Kingdom
E-waste Production Per Capita: 23.9
The United Kingdom is another large generator of e-waste. Only a small amount of electronic waste is recycled or reused, with the remainder ending up in landfills. In 2019, the country generated 23.9 kilos of electronic waste per capita.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 23.4
Despite its significant e-waste output, Switzerland is one of the few countries with a well-established infrastructure for collecting and recycling obsolete electronics. In 2019, the country produced 23.4 kg of electronic garbage per capita, placing it among the top 15 countries in terms of e-waste production.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 22.4
Denmark is also one of the world’s leading producers of e-waste. When compared to other European countries, it generates a substantial amount of e-waste. In 2019, Denmark generated 22.4 kilos of electronic waste per inhabitant.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 21.7
Australia is another country that contributes significantly to global e-waste. In Australia, e-waste is developing at a rate that is multiples that of normal waste. In 2019, the country created 21.7 kg of electronic garbage per capita, making it one of the world’s top 15 producers of e-waste.
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E-waste Production Per Capita: 21.6
The Netherlands is another European country that is a major generator of e-waste in the world. Despite having a decent recycling rate, the Netherlands nonetheless generates a large amount of e-waste each year. The country generated 21.6 kilos of electronic waste in 2019.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 18.7
Iceland is another country that generates a lot of e-waste. Electronic garbage continues to rise, despite efforts by Iceland’s waste management system to manage it. In 2019, Iceland produced 18.7 kilos of electronic waste per inhabitant.
8. The United States
E-waste Production Per Capita: 21.0
The United States is another major producer of e-waste in the world. This rapidly developing used electronics industry is being exported to neighboring countries. In 2019, the country generated 21 kilos of electronic waste per capita.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 21.0
France is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of electronic garbage. Laptops, cellphones, tablets, and other electronic devices add to the country’s e-waste stream. In 2019, the country generated 21 kilos of e-waste per capita.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 20.4
Among other countries, Japan is a major producer of e-waste. Japan produces the most e-waste in Asia and is a major exporter of e-waste. In 2019, the country generated 20.4 kilos of electronic waste per inhabitant.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 20.4
Belgium is another country with a strong presence in e-waste generation. To keep e-waste production levels low, many e-waste recycling firms operate in Belgium. In 2019, the country generated 20.4 kilos of electronic waste per inhabitant.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 20.2
Canada is one of the top 15 countries in terms of e-waste generation. With frequent upgrades in electronics among Canadians, e-waste has increased dramatically over the years. In 2019, the country generated 20.2 kg of electronic waste per inhabitant.
13. Hong Kong
E-waste Production Per Capita: 20.2
Hong Kong also generates a significant amount of electronic garbage. The country’s people have a high thirst for mobile phones, which end up in landfills. In 2019, the country created 20.2 kg of e-waste per capita, making it one of the 15 countries with the highest e-waste production rates.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 20.1
Sweden is one of the leading producers of e-waste. Despite the fact that the government has a recycling mechanism in place, the rising use of electronics, particularly those with shorter life spans, contributes to the e-waste stream. In 2019, it generated 20.1 kilos of electronic waste per capita.
E-waste Production Per Capita: 19.9
Singapore generates a large amount of electronic garbage. Because of rising spending power and the advent of new technology, the country disposes of a substantial number of electronics each year. In 2019, the country produced 19.9 kg of e-waste per capita, placing it among the top 15 countries in terms of e-waste production.