Earth Day. Humanity annually produces over 60 billion kilograms of electronic waste. Recovering secondary raw materials through WEEE recycling could help avoid the extraction of over 900 billion kilograms of ore


Earth Day. Humanity annually produces over 60 billion kilograms of electronic waste. Recovering secondary raw materials through WEEE recycling could help avoid the extraction of over 900 billion kilograms of ore


The amount of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) generated globally each year is measured in tens of billions of kilograms. Specifically, humanity produced in 2022 over 62 billion kilograms of WEEE, averaging 7.8 kilograms per capita. Only 13.8 billion kilograms of these, or 22.3%, were collected and recycled properly. Proper recycling could help avoid the annual extraction of over 900 billion kilograms of ore, and the estimated value of recoverable metals is over 90 billion dollars, as shown by the most recent Global E-Waste Monitor 2024 study (conducted by UNITAR, ITU, and the Carmignac Foundation), consulted by representatives of the Environ Association on the occasion of Earth Day, celebrated on April 22nd.

„If all the electronic waste were loaded into 40-ton trucks, each 25 meters long, the convoy of trucks needed would encircle the Earth at the Equator,” says Roxana Puia, Marketing Director of the Environ Association.

Roxana Puia, Marketing Director of the Environ Association.

The staggering increase in the quantity of EEE. Globally, the amount of new electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market has risen from 62 billion kilograms in 2010 to 96 billion kilograms in 2022. It is projected to continue rising to 120 billion kilograms in 2030. At the same time, the quantity of formally collected and recycled electronic waste has also increased, from 8 billion kilograms (2010) to 14 billion kilograms (2022), but still far behind the pace of waste generation.

Europe sets records. In just 12 years, the amount of electronic waste generated annually worldwide has almost doubled. If in 2010 there were about 34 billion kilograms, by 2022, it reached 62 billion kilograms of electronic waste, and by 2030, according to estimates, it will reach 82 billion kilograms of WEEE. Europe was the region that generated the most electronic waste (17.6 kilograms per capita), while also having the highest formally documented collection and recycling rate (7.5 kilograms per capita), accounting for 42.8% of the generated electronic waste. In Romania, during the same period, 250 million kilograms of waste were generated, of which 71.5 million kilograms of WEEE were collected and recycled.

Why the increase in waste? The main causes are electrification and digital transformation, based on technologies that profoundly change how we live, work, learn, socialize, and do business. According to data from the Global E-Waste Monitor, for every 100 people, there are 108 mobile phone subscriptions, and in high-income countries, on average, 109 EEE items (excluding bulbs) are registered per capita. Other significant causes include increased consumption, short product lifecycles, limited repair options, and inadequate electronic waste management infrastructure.

Main EEE categories. Approximately one-third (20 billion kilograms) of global electronic waste comes from small equipment such as toys, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, and electronic cigarettes, yet the global recycling rate remains very low at just 12%. Large equipment (excluding photovoltaic panels) follows with 15 billion kilograms. Screens and monitors account for 10% of total WEEE (5.9 billion kilograms). Another 5 billion kilograms of electronic waste comes from small IT and telecommunications equipment (laptops, mobile phones, GPS devices, personal computers, printers, routers, etc.); only 22% of them are formally collected and recycled. Bulbs generate waste weighing 2 billion kilograms.

Electrification. Even though the global rate of WEEE collection and recycling is on an upward curve, it does not keep pace with the growth of the electrification phenomenon, manifested by the increasing number of electronic devices, strongly driven by technological explosion, urban area interconnectivity, internet proliferation, and remote work. According to data from the Global E-Waste Monitor 2024, the amount of waste generated increases five times faster every year than the collected waste.

Collection rates. The highest collection rates (34%) are found in large equipment (washing machines, dishwashers, large printers, photocopiers, etc.). Thermal transfer equipment (refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, and heat pumps) follow with 27%, and then screens and monitors. Although the most numerous, small equipment also have the lowest collection rates globally (12%).

Electronic cigarettes. Regarding small-sized equipment, the most widespread category of WEEE, there is an increase in the number of flavored electronic cigarettes. In 2022, over 844 million vapes were sold, mostly disposable, instantly turning into over 40 million kilograms of waste, containing plastic, lithium-ion batteries (over 130,000 kilograms of lithium), a heating element, and a circuit board.

Economic impact. Experts contributing to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2024 study indicate that the waste generated in 2022 translates into 31 billion kilograms of metals, 17 billion kilograms of plastic, and 14 billion kilograms of other materials (minerals, glass, other composites). Concerning metals, 4 billion kilograms are part of what we call critical raw materials: aluminum (3.9 billion kilograms), cobalt (34 million kilograms), and antimony (28 million kilograms).

„The theme of this year’s Earth Day is Planet vs. Plastic, and electronic waste, besides heavy metals and hazardous substances, are significant plastic generators. Improper WEEE management, outside formal collection and recycling schemes, resulted, during the analyzed period, in the release of 58,000 kilograms of mercury and 45 million kilograms of plastic into the environment, with a direct and severe impact on the environment and human health. At the same time, responsible management can bring benefits from all perspectives. For example, the current production of secondary raw materials avoids the extraction of 900 billion kilograms of ore,” adds Roxana Puia.

The value of electronic waste. The economic value of metals from WEEE was, in 2022, 91 billion USD. Even though all of these could be efficiently recovered using current electronic waste management technologies, in the analyzed year, raw materials worth only 28 billion USD were recycled; the greatest losses occurred due to incineration, improper landfilling, or inadequate treatments. Iron had the highest recovery rate, followed by zinc and lead. Precious metals, present in much smaller quantities, are estimated to benefit from a viable recovery of 300 thousand kilograms in a year. In terms of recovered value, copper ranks first (19 billion USD), followed by gold (15 billion USD), and iron (16 billion USD).

About the Environ Association

The ENVIRON Association is one of the most important players in the field of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment management in Romania. Environ represents the obligations of about 1,150 producers who place electrical and electronic equipment on the market, either imported or produced under their own brand, accounting for 27% of the total companies registered at ANPM.

In its almost 17 years of activity, it has managed over 230,000 tons of electronic waste and organized over 4,000 collection points. The organization assumes responsibility for all six categories of electrical and electronic equipment: thermal transfer equipment, monitors and screens, lamps, large equipment, small equipment, and IT&C equipment.


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