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Why we should mine our e-waste

20 July 2022 •

By: Chris Technology

E-waste (discarded electronic appliances such as mobile phones, computers, and televisions) is a fast growing global problem as we develop and adopt more technologies into our daily lives. In fact, the yearly global e-waste produced went from 44.4 Mt in 2014 up to 53.6 Mt in 2019 according to ewastemonitor, which is a rapid rate of growth.

In order to sustain our insatiable demand for technological goods, we mine more and more resources out of the earth. Unfortunately, mining has a severe environmental impact, including metal contamination of surface water and groundwater, air emissions, acid drainage, structural degradation and more, as can be seen in the image below.

Water Pollution Effects From Mining.png

Image source: Anderson Engineering

One of the most effective tools we have to minimise mining and reduce the production of e-waste is to create a circular economy where the e-waste is recycled. The reality is that e-waste is a mostly untapped urban mine containing raw materials to the value of $57 Billion in the year of 2019 alone, according to ewastemonitor. Unfortunately, of the 53.6 Mt of e-waste produced globally in 2019, only 17.4% of it was documented to have been collected and properly recycled.

E-waste pile.jpg

Despite this rather grim outlook, there is hope. We shifted from 44% of the global population covered by e-waste policy, legislation or regulation in 2014 to 71% in 2019. This dramatic shift in coverage should shape the behaviours around e-waste and will hopefully lead to a significant increase in the amount of e-waste that is collected and properly recycled.

E-waste Policy.png

Image source: E-waste Monitor

The global leader in recycling e-waste is Europe with a staggering 42.5% of its 12Mt e-waste documented as being collected and properly recycled. Unfortunately, the Americas and Asia were only documented to have recycled 9.4% and 11.7% of their 13.1Mt and 24.9Mt of e-waste respectively, which pulls down the global statistic for e-waste recycled significantly. Africa only recycled a pathetic 0.9% of its e-waste in 2019, however, it only produced 2.9Mt of e-waste, and as such, the impact was minimal.

In order to minimise the negative consequences of mining and improper e-waste disposal, we should look to the systems and policies implemented by Europe, who are recycling almost four times as much e-waste as the next best continent. Hopefully, we can bring the total global recycled e-waste above the European 42.5% in the near future, as it will be necessary to combat the ever-increasing rate at which we produce e-waste.

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20 July 2022
By: Chris

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