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E-waste accumulates into "urban mines" and it is critical to realize the recycling of electronic products

Release on : Oct 14, 2021

E-waste accumulates into "urban mines" and it is critical to realize the recycling of electronic products

electronic waste 

October 14th is International E-waste Day.
E-waste is an informal term for the so-called "waste electrical and electronic equipment" (WEEE). With the development of industrial civilization, more and more discarded electronic products have gradually piled up into inexhaustible "urban mines".
According to United Nations data, in 2021, each person on the planet will produce an average of 7.6 kilograms of e-waste, which means that 57.4 million tons of e-waste will be generated globally.
According to data released by the WEEE Forum headquartered in Brussels, Switzerland, the total amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment accumulated worldwide this year is estimated to be 57.4 million tons, which is more than the weight of the heaviest man-made object on the planet-the Great Wall of China.
Although many countries have taken many measures to alleviate this growing problem, these measures are just a drop in the bucket without the active actions of consumers. This year’s International E-waste Day will focus on the key role each of us plays in achieving the recycling of electronic products.
Hoarded, discarded... How to deal with discarded mobile phones?
In March of this year, the International Telecommunication Union released the "2020 Global E-waste Report." It is estimated that in 2019, the world produced 53.6 million tons of e-waste, 7.3 kg per capita. It is expected to increase to 74.7 million tons by 2030.
From this point of view, the global e-waste increases by 2 million tons (about 3%-4%) each year, which is caused by the high consumption rate of electronic products (an increase of 3% each year), the short product life cycle, and the limited selection of maintenance methods.
According to European data, 11 out of 72 electronic products in an ordinary household are no longer used or damaged. Every citizen will also have 4-5 kilograms of idle electrical and electronic products that are hoarded before being discarded.
Speaking of mobile phones, a French study estimated that between 54 million and 113 million mobile phones weighing 10-20 tons "lay" in French homes.
In the United States, although many mobile phones are recycled, it is estimated that 151 million or more mobile phones (approximately 416,000 a day) are discarded every year and eventually burned or landfilled. 40% of heavy metals in landfills in the United States come from discarded electronic products.
New problem: The world's demand for data and digital services is rising
Recently, a European "Information and Communication Technology Impact Report" stated that "video on demand, movies, social media clips, and game streaming occupy nearly 85% of data center bandwidth."
At the same time, according to a joint study conducted by the ITU and the Forum on Waste Electrical and Electronic Products in 2020, Internet users have doubled since 2010, and traffic has increased by about 30% each year. By 2023, global Internet users will reach 5.3 billion ( Accounted for 66% of the world’s population). It is estimated that by 2025, mobile Internet users will increase from 3.8 billion in 2019 to 5 billion, while IoT connected devices will double from 12 billion to 25 billion in the same period.
All of this, as well as emerging applications in cloud computing, 5G, self-driving cars, blockchain, machine learning, and other artificial intelligence, require more and more servers. The report pointed out that although the weight of such professional equipment for Internet connection is certainly much less than that of consumer equipment, the hard data available is very small, which is an information gap that needs to be filled.
The report added: "Smartphones are still the center of data usage growth because they generate most of the mobile data traffic (expected to reach 95% in 2025)." Product manufacturers and consumers play an important role together.
"The rapid development of mobile phones has caused the market to rely on the rapid replacement of old equipment. Mobile devices affect the environment in many ways during their life cycle, but through the application of circular economy principles, including production control, equipment reuse, remanufacturing and recycling, And improving the cycle design, including the selection of parts and materials, standardization and modularization, to make it easier to disassemble, can reduce this impact."
One ton of used mobile phones has more "gold content" than one ton of gold ore
The outbreak of the new crown epidemic has had a significant impact on our use of electronic products and digital solutions, and people’s reliance on electronic products has increased. According to a study commissioned by the European Parliament, by December 2020, the European Union’s demand for personal computers and tablets has increased by 4.6% year-on-year. However, in 2019, less than half (17.4%) of e-waste was properly treated and recycled.
For mobile phones, tablet computers and other small electronic products, data security, product value, and difficulty in meeting recycling requirements have become the main factors hindering their recycling.
Rudiger Kuhl, director of the UN University Sustainable Cycle (SCYCLE) project and director of the Bonn Office of UNITAR, said that the value of electrical and electronic equipment components in the world's "urban mines" is huge.
The "gold content" of abandoned electronic mines is much higher than that of ordinary high-quality primary mines. "For example, a total of 24 kilograms of gold, 16,000 kilograms of copper, 350 kilograms of silver, and 14 kilograms of palladium are embedded in 1 million mobile phones-these resources can be recycled and returned to the production cycle. If we cannot recycle these materials, we need to mine new ones. The mineral deposits, thereby endangering the environment." Kuer said.
SCYCLE senior project officer Keith Bald said: “In addition, the recovery of gold and other materials from waste can reduce carbon dioxide emissions compared to mining raw metals.” A conservative estimate is that the value of high-value, recyclable materials is 57 billion. US dollar-higher than the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries.
EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Viginius Sinkiewicz said that e-waste is one of the fastest-growing wastes in the world. To change this trend, we should turn "waste" into "treasure."
Currently, the European Commission is formulating new eco-design requirements for electronic equipment to improve durability and make them easier to maintain, thereby facilitating consumers to make sustainable choices.
The WEEE Forum stated that successfully increasing the recycling rate of e-waste requires the participation of everyone, including consumers. Awareness is the key to action. On this year’s International E-waste Day, they hope to urge people to properly dispose of end-of-life electronic products through promotional activities such as e-waste collection activities, school lectures and social media promotion.