In 2019, electronic waste contributed to a record-high amount of e-waste generated worldwide at 53.6 million metric tons, comprising a staggering 70% of the world’s toxic waste. As technology use and new production continues to rise worldwide, these figures are anticipated to rise even higher in years to come.
To explore this further, tech reseller, Decluttr, commissioned a July 2020 survey of America’s most heavy technology adopters, Generation Z (18-22) and Millennials (23-38). The survey of 1,332 Millennials and Gen-Zers evaluated the generations’ current concern for the environment and how electronic waste fits into their other eco-conscious behaviors.
Despite the dire circumstances faced by countries around the world in the first half of 2020, environmental awareness and concern does not appear to have swayed. According to the survey, 65% of young Americans’ feel similarly concerned about the environment as they did 6 months prior. In fact, even with the downturn of the U.S. economy, a significant amount of young Americans say environmental sustainability (71%) is more important to them than economic growth (29%).
On the contrary, businesses are reportedly reprioritizingmore quickly, with many cutting back on green initiatives due to the state of the economy. Yet, this shift is unlikely to sit well with many young Americans; 85% are concerned that some brands and companies have temporarily halted their sustainability efforts in order to cope with the economic effects of the pandemic and 69% would boycott a brand if they found out they were not following environmentally sound business practices.
When it comes to putting beliefs into practice, Millennials and Gen-Zers are taking multiple measures in an effort to help the environment on a daily basis. The survey indicated that they regularly recycle (90%), compost (43%) and shop zero plastic (27%). Their dedication to the environment also doesn’t stop at accountability for their own actions, they’re also unwilling to tolerate being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share their concerns. 47% of young Americans say they wouldn’t consider dating someone who didn’t recycle and 45% wouldn’t date someone who used an excess of plastic.
Yet despite good intentions, many are not aware of the extent to which e-waste is an environmental concern or the proper measures needed to reduce it. 60% of young people are unfamiliar with the term, ‘e-waste,’ yet 63% contribute to it. What’s most concerning is that 57% are not aware that electronic waste is a significant contributor to toxic waste, illustrating the dire need for further education. It’s estimated that 130 million smartphones are disposed ofannually, which are typically burned in incinerators, releasing harmful metals into the atmosphere such as lead, mercury and arsenic. These toxins contaminate the land, air and water, affecting the health and well-being of animals, plants and humans.
Yet, with many Americans cleaning out their homes while on lockdown, the survey results suggest that old electronics are only continuing to pile up in landfills. Between the months of March through June 2020, 60% have disposed of one or more electronic items, with the top electronic items thrown away including charging cords (49%), headphones (42%) and mobile phones (29%). Of those disposing these items, the primary reasons for doing so are due to lack of knowledge about how to properly dispose, donate and/or resell them (44%) and not knowing if the items were recyclable or not (36%).
“Now is the time that we all need to step up and educate people on this issue. I’m a big believer that tackling the problem of e-waste needs to be the next big movement in green initiatives alongside other important environmental issues that have taken center stage in recent years,” comments Liam Howley, CMO of Decluttr, “The biggest thing that consumers can do to support this cause is to stop the cycle of buying new and opt for used or refurbished items, as well as trading in or recycling their old devices for reuse. The more that people can rely on what’s already in circulation as opposed to new items, the fewer electronics we’ll ultimately need to dispose of long-term.”