Growing Amounts of Electronic Waste Worldwide – Recycling Lagging Behind

by | 21. Mar 2024 - 11:10 | Economy

UN report shows billions of euros worth of raw materials are lost. Recycling covers just one percent of the demand for rare earths.

More and more e-waste is generated worldwide its production is increasing five times faster than documented recycling. This is according to the latest United Nations (UN) Global E-waste Monitor. In 2022, a record amount of 62 million tons of e-waste was produced, enough to fill 1.55 million 40-tonne trucks that would stretch around the equator, according to the report. At 17.6 kilos, Europe has the highest volume of e-waste per capita.

Some other impressive figures: Compared to 2010, the amount of discarded and sorted electrical appliances had increased by 82 percent in 2022. By 2030, the annual volume is expected to rise to 82 million tons.

In addition to the increasing burden on the environment and health, the waste of valuable resources is also problematic, as the UN writes that billions of dollars worth of raw materials are lost. In 2022, only 22.3 percent of the e-waste generated was properly collected and recycled. For 2030, the report predicts a decline of 20 percent, triggered, among other things, by ever-increasing consumption, shorter product life cycles, and inadequate infrastructure for handling e-waste.

More Recycling Could Reduce Critical Raw Materials Dependencies

The UN concludes by calling for significantly higher collection and recycling rates, which could improve the supply of rare earths in particular. These critical raw materials are primarily needed for electric motors, wind turbines, and consumer electronics. While China has a quasi-monopoly on extraction and processing, and many countries want to reduce their dependence on imports, only one percent of the demand for rare earths has so far been covered by recycling.

However, initial steps have been taken to improve this situation. The EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act, for example, which will come into force in a few weeks, provides for significantly increased recycling quotas for important raw materials by 2030. Research initiatives and companies are also increasingly focusing on this field, in some cases with government funding.

Photo: iStock/YaroslavKryuchka

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