A recent study shows that a European citizen disposes of up to 1.4kg of old or broken electronics in the mixed waste bins. For a standard household this means nearly 4kg a year. The situation is not much better in the US, where approximately 416,000 mobile phones each day are binned according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. That means more than 151 million phones are thrown away every year. All this e-waste is then managed with mixed waste and ends up either incinerated or landfilled. It is estimated that even up to 40% of the heavy metals in U.S. landfills come from discarded electronics.
This is also a true loss of resources which could re-enter the manufacturing cycle. For every million cell phones that are recycled, 16 000 kg of copper, 350 kg of silver, 24 kg of gold, and 14kg of palladium could be recovered. E-waste is a true ‘urban mine’, and in some respects even richer than traditional mining: for example, there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of smartphones than in a tonne of gold ore.
“There are so many factors that play a role in making the electronics sector resource efficient and circular. But one thing stands out: as long as citizens don’t return their used, broken gear to officially recognized collection points, or sell it on, or donate it to charity, we will need to continue mining the materials, which is much more damaging for the environment”, says Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum. “This is why the International E-Waste Day this year will focus on the responsibility we all have, as citizens, to help make the economy circular.” he added.
“Alongside convenience, (financial) compensation, care for environment, culture and social norms, awareness is one of the key motivators for people to take action and return their unused and non-functional electronic items” says Magdalena Charytanowicz, in charge of the organisation of International E-Waste Day. “This is why on 14 October this year we want to promote the proper disposal of end-of-life electronics and reach as many citizens worldwide as possible by encouraging campaigns and awareness activities. These may be e-waste collections, school lectures, press and social media campaigns or conferences that debate these issues. Even the smallest action promoting sound e-waste collection, repair, reuse or recycling is welcome in the frame of International E-Waste Day.”