broken laptop, phone, and tablet.
WEEE facts and stats

E-waste Facts and Statistics

Electronic waste (e-waste) is one of the fastest-growing waste streams as we use more electrical devices in our modern lives. Currently, more than 50 million tonnes of e-waste are produced every year across the world. This includes everything from old mobile phones to laptops, fridges, medical equipment, and vacuum cleaners.

Consumers and businesses are responsible for the incredible levels of electricals thrown away. They power our workplaces, entertainment, and social lives in many ways. Then when they stop working or have a problem most are disposed of and replaced, which creates mountains of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

E-waste facts and figures are changing all the time as new devices and equipment are developed and used in our professional and personal lives. Get an idea of how many items with cables, wires, and batteries we chuck out with these electrifying and shocking facts about e-waste.

Examples of e-waste

Anything with a plug or battery classifies as e-waste when it’s no longer needed. This could be if it’s broken, outdated, or has no purpose at home or in a business. The WEEE Regulations 2013 outline 10 categories of WEEE that cover everything from small and large household appliances to IT and telecommunications equipment, medical devices, and toys.

E-waste only refers to the finished products. Any parts and components (such as wires, microchips, and batteries) are not examples of WEEE and follow different recycling and recovery processes. These are some common examples of e-waste found in homes and businesses:

What causes e-waste?

A growing consumer demand for more and the latest electronic products is a big cause of e-waste. More electronic products are being manufactured than ever before and many people upgrade to the latest mobile phone, laptop, or games console when they’re released. This means the old ones quickly become waste.

There’s also a throwaway culture around many electronics that means plenty are simply disposed of once they become outdated or broken. Often it’s cheaper to replace rather than repair some electrical items, which creates more e-waste. The same is true for many products with batteries – once the battery life reduces the whole item is replaced rather than just the battery.

There are various causes of e-waste for businesses. Upgrading to the latest computer equipment for an office so things run more efficiently is common. Damage and electrical items breaking down are other big reasons for commercial e-waste. This could be accidental or due to misuse by employees or customers (such as overfilling a dishwasher or knocking a TV off a wall in a hotel room).

How to reduce e-waste
old mobile phones lined up.

WEEE statistics

E-waste is the world’s fastest growing solid waste stream with more than 50 million tonnes generated globally every year. That’s the equivalent weight of all the commercial aircraft ever built. It’s a staggering amount of waste and sadly much of it isn’t recycled. This is especially bad as lots of e-waste contains toxic elements and precious metals.

Discover more about the electricals we throw away with these facts and WEEE statistics from around the world:

  • We produce the equivalent e-waste of more than six kilograms for every person on the planet each year
  • Globally only around 17% of e-waste is recycled
  • There are almost 350 million tonnes of unrecycled e-waste on earth
  • Annual e-waste production is worth $62.5 billion
  • WEEE makes up 70% of all toxic waste in the world
  • It’s estimated that 50 tonnes of mercury are lost every year through improper e-waste disposal
  • Raw materials in the e-waste stream are valued at around £45 million – but only about £8 million are recovered
  • E-waste production could reach 120 million tonnes per year by 2050 if current trends continue
  • Just over 70% of countries have e-waste policies, regulations, or legislation in place
  • Around 5 million tonnes of WEEE are collected across EU countries

E-waste statistics in the UK

According to the UN, the UK is the second-largest producer of e-waste per person in the world (behind Norway). The WEEE Regulations 2013 were introduced to ensure no electronic waste makes its way to landfill and encourage the reuse and recycling of e-waste by consumers and businesses across the country.

However, as these facts and figures about e-waste in the UK show, there’s still work to do:

  • In total, the UK generates around 6 million tonnes of e-waste every year
  • Households produce more than 400,000 tonnes of e-waste each year
  • Around 9kg of e-waste per capita is created in the UK annually
  • The UK only recycles 31.2% of e-waste
  • Every year Brits buy around 10 million tonnes of electronic and electrical products
  • The average UK home has 25 electronic devices – around 20% of which are unused
  • It’s estimated that 25 million mobile phones are discarded across the UK each year
  • About a quarter of all electronics purchased are IT equipment and consumer digital devices – that contain £1.5 billion worth of precious metals
  • IT and telecoms e-waste doubled in the UK over the last 15 years to almost 38,000 tonnes annually
laptop on a table in the garden.

Which countries produce the most WEEE?

The countries that produce the most waste generally create the most WEEE. Despite producing the second largest amount of e-waste per person, the UK only creates the ninth most amount of WEEE in total. These are the countries that generate the highest volumes of WEEE in the world each year:

  • China – 10 million tonnes
  • USA – 7 million tonnes
  • India – 3.2 million tonnes
  • Japan – 2.5 million tonnes
  • Brazil – 2.1 million tonnes
  • Russia – 1.6 million tonnes

E-waste recycling facts

There’s a lot of value in old electronics as these stats and facts about e-waste show. Recycling WEEE is possible and important to help preserve resources, save energy, and reduce pollution levels across the planet. The importance is clear to see with these e-waste recycling facts and figures:

  • Estonia, Norway, and Iceland have the highest e-waste recycling rates in the world
  • Currently, the amount of e-waste recycled globally prevents 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment
  • Recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,600 homes annually
  • Recycling one million mobile phones can recover:
    • 16,000kg of copper
    • 350kg of silver
    • 34kg of gold,
    • 15kg of palladium
  • Irresponsible e-waste recycling causes around 25% of data breaches
  • Recycling one tonne of circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times more gold – and 30 to 40 times more copper than can be mined from one tonne of ore
circuit board.

How should I get rid of e-waste?

If you’ve got any kind of electronic item that still works but you no longer need then the best thing to do is give it to someone who can use it. This could be donating to a charity shop, passing it on to a friend, or selling it online.

For any broken consumer electricals, you can return them to many electronic stores for free through the retailer take-back scheme. When buying some new items (like a mobile phone or fridge) the company may offer an exchange option. Alternatively, take them to a local electrical recycling bank or household waste recycling centre, depending on their size.

Businesses must arrange commercial waste collection of any e-waste produced. This could be old IT equipment, a microwave from the office kitchen, or company phones. Licensed waste carriers must remove any WEEE from your premises and provide a duty of care certificate confirming its safe, legal, and responsible collection and disposal.

At Business Waste we can provide free containers and bins for all sorts of e-waste. We can arrange collection of any type and amount of e-waste anywhere in the UK to ensure your electrical rubbish is recycled and recovered. Get a free quote for e-waste collection in the UK today – call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online.

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