Electronic waste materials, or e-waste, is currently a massive problem for the world, and one that tends to under-appreciated by most people. The majority of us must realise that as a consequence of our “throwaway society” today, gadgets and equipment can become obsolete faster than ever. We normally focus more on the personal cost of replacing an item, which we may be able to justify, and often fail to consider the impact of the e-waste we are creating by quite literally adding to the growing pile of discarded electronic trash.
However, even knowing and understanding this concept, it can be hard to grasp the reality of our current situation. In 2011, we produced over 41.5 million tons of electronic waste, including televisions, computers, phones, other consumer electronics and industrial equipment. Since then, the figures have increased at an alarming rate, and we are predicted to produce 93.5 million tons, which is over 125% more e-waste in total by the end of 2016.
In only five years, we have increased our turnover of electronic trash to the point where we produce more than twice as much in a single year. By 2020 this is predicted to reach 150 million tons yearly. Meanwhile, the electronic recycling industry is also growing, although whether its growth rate is sufficient to keep up with demand is unclear. In 2012 the industry as a whole was valued at $9.8 billion USD, and based on growth since then, it’s set to surpass $40 million by 2019.
The industry has generally been led by some of the most developed countries worldwide, since they have more suitable infrastructure in place to facilitate e-waste recycling on a mass scale. It’s also easier within certain economies for people to move more quickly into new business sectors, which originally was a major factor for e-recycling since it initially offered great profit margins (although the market in the US, for example, became quickly saturated). Another crucial factor that has driven growth has been regulations imposed by governments and authorities, including those in the European Union and most North American states.
However, despite the industry of recycling electronics continuing to grow, it remains to be seen whether it will remain profitable enough to continue keeping up with the amount of e-waste we actually produce. Transporting and processing different materials and types of electronic waste can get very expensive, and as we continue to burn through money and resources it seems unlikely that this will change quickly. Reducing the amount of e-waste we produce may be a great help, but it’s hard to imagine that happening in the short term.