Latest Global E-Waste Statistics And What They Tell Us

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Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) is increasingly in demand in today’s society, driven by higher levels of disposable income, increasing urbanization and industrialization, and population growth.

A large proportion of EEE has a short life span, and is often perceived as being difficult or expensive to repair. Brands spend billions creating consumer demand for the latest models, leaving older technology obsolete and unwanted even when it remains serviceable.

After its use, EEE is disposed of and becomes Electronic Waste, often shortened to e-waste.

E-Waste contains a mixture of valuable materials that can be recycled (but which usually aren’t), and toxic materials such as lead, mercury and cadmium which can be hazardous to our health and to the environment.

In this article, I will reveal the latest research, facts, and statistics which illustrate the scale and consequences of the global e-waste problem.

Key Facts

  • 57.4 Mt (Million Metric Tonnes) of e-waste was generated in 2021. The total is growing by an average of 2 Mt a year.
  • There is over 347 Mt of unrecycled e-waste on earth in 2022.
  • China, the US, and India produce the most e-waste.
  • Only 17.4% of e-waste is known to be collected and properly recycled.
  • Estonia, Norway, and Iceland have the highest e-waste recycling rates.
  • The e-waste recycling market was valued at $49,880 million in 2020.

E-Waste Production Statistics

Total Annual Global E-Waste Generation Chart

How much E-Waste is Produced Each Year?

It is estimated that 57.4 Mt (Million Metric Tonnes) of e-waste was generated globally in 2021.

There has been an increase year on year since e-waste data started being collected in 2014.

How Much E-waste is on Earth?

total unrecycled e-waste on Earth

There is no official figure for the total amount of unrecycled e-waste currently on Earth. However, using the latest data that we do have, it is possible to make an estimate.

We know that since data was first collected in 2014, up until the end of 2022 there will have been an estimated total of 420.3 Million Metric Tonnes of e-waste produced. We also know that on average, only a small percentage of that is recycled (see below for recycling data).

Based on this we can estimate that at least 347 Mt of e-waste remains.

This is likely to be a conservative estimate for the following reasons:

  • A significant amount of e-waste will have been produced (and not recycled) before 2014.
  • Not all e-waste produced is documented.
  • Recycling rates have varied over the years and may have been lower initially before global awareness of the issue was raised, and more countries introduced legislation to enable proper recycling.

Will E-Waste Continue to Increase in the Future?

On average, the global e-waste generation has increased by 2 Mt annually over the last decade.

Global electronic waste volume is projected to grow to 74.7 Mt by 2030 – meaning it will have almost doubled in only 16 years.

Global E-Waste Statistics by Region

Which Region Produces the Most E-Waste by Volume?

Asia (24.9 Mt), the Americas (13.1 Mt) and Europe (12Mt) produced the overwhelming majority of E-Waste when measured by total weight.

Which Region Produces the Most E-Waste per Capita?

When measured per capita, Europeans (16.2 Kg) produce the most e-waste per person, followed by Oceania (16.1 Kg) and the Americas (13.3 Kg).

African residents produce the least amount of e-waste per capita.

Which Countries Produce the Most E-waste?

China, the US, and India produce the most electronic waste.

The table below shows the top 10 e-waste producing countries in the world, in terms of the total volume produced (shown in KiloTons).

Rank Country E-Waste Produced (Kt) Recycling Rate
1 China 10129 16%
2 USA 6918 15%
3 India 3230 1%
4 Japan 2569 22%
5 Brazil 2143 0%
6 Russia 1631 6%
7 Indonesia 1618 n/a
8 Germany 1607 52%
9 UK 1598 57%
10 France 1362 56%

For each country in the top 10, you can also see their individual recycling rate, according to the latest available data (Updated September 2022).

E-Waste Composition Data

Global E-Waste Breakdown Pie Chart

What are the Most Common E-Waste Items?

The 53.6 Mt is comprised of the following items:

  • 17.4 Mt of Small Equipment - including microwaves, vacuum cleaners, fans, kettles, toasters, shavers, hairdryers, radios, tools and toys
  • 13.1 Mt of Large Equipment - including washing machines, tumble dryers, cookers, stoves and dishwashers
  • 10.8 Mt of Temperature Exchange Equipment - including refrigerators, freezers,
    air conditioners, and heat pumps
  • 6.7 Mt of Screens and Monitors - including televisions, monitors, laptops, notebooks, and tablets
  • 4.7 Mt of Small IT & Telecoms Equipment - including cell phones, phone cases, wireless routers, GPS and pocket calculators
  • 0.9 Mt of lamps, bulbs and LEDs

Of these categories, screens and monitors is the only one whose production has decreased since 2014, and this is only because older, heavier monitors are no longer produced.

E-Waste Recycling Statistics

Global & Regional E-Waste Recycling Statistics

What Percentage of Electronic Waste Is Recycled?

Less than 1/5 is recycled globally, although this varies by region.

Only 17.4% of total global e-waste is known to have been collected and properly recycled. This figure has fallen in the last 5 years as a percentage of total waste generated.

Europe Recycles The Highest Percentage of E-Waste

Europe has by far the highest collection and recycling rate at 42.5%. Asia, in second place, had a rate of just 11.7%. Africa has the lowest at just 0.9%.

Which Country is Best in E-waste Recycling?

Estonia, Norway, and Iceland have the best electronic waste recycling rates in terms of the percentage of waste that each country produces, according to the latest available data.

Rank Country E-Waste Recycled (Kt) Recycling Rate
1 Estonia 13 76%
2 Norway 99 72%
3 Iceland 5 71%
4 Sweden 141 70%
5 Austria 116 69%
6 Switzerland 123 63%
7 Finland 65 61%
8 Poland 246 60%
9 Ireland 52 59%
10 UK 871 57%

The top 10 e-waste recycling countries are ranked by the percentage of their waste that is formally collected for proper recycling, while the total amount recycled (in KiloTons) is also shown for reference.

The Fate of Non Recycled Electronic Waste Is Unclear

82.6% of electronic waste is not recycled (via official channels) and therefore not documented. Researchers cannot accurately track where it ends up.

It is estimated that 8% of e-waste is discarded in the trash, and subsequently goes to landfill or gets incinerated. This consists mostly of smaller electrical and It items (tablets, mobile phones etc).

Up to 20% is estimated to be exported, either as second hand products or as pure waste.

Increased Legislation Exists, But Isn't Always Enforced

By the end of 2019, 78 countries had a national e-waste policy, legislation, or regulation. This covered some 71% of the world’s population, a significant increase from just 44% 5 years previously.

However, the enforcement of legislation in some countries is poor or even non existent.

Furthermore, there are still 25 US states, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Nevada, that still do not have any legislation requiring e-waste to be recycled.

Managing E-Waste Is A Lucrative Market

E-waste contains several scarce and valuable raw materials, most of which are currently not recaptured. That’s why the global e-waste management market is likely to grow, due to financial reasons as well as environmental ones.

The market was valued at $49,880 million in 2020, and it is projected to almost triple to $143,870 million by 2028.

E-Waste And The Environment: The Consequences of Failing To Recycle

Although its fate is unproven, estimates suggest that most undocumented electronic waste is mixed with other waste, such as plastic and metal. This means that easily recyclable parts might be recycled, but it will usually be done poorly.

No steps will be taken to remove toxic elements, and many more valuable reusable components might be missed. This is why e-waste must be recycled separately.

chart showing raw materials obtained from recycling cell phones

Valuable Raw Materials Are Lost

There are several high-value raw materials in e-waste, including gold, silver, copper, and iron.

Recycling just one million used cell phones can recover as much as 772lbs of silver, 35,000lbs of copper, 75lbs of gold, and 33lbs of palladium.

It is estimated that the 53.6 Mt of e-waste generated in 2019 contained raw materials worth around $57 billion.

Considering that 82.6% of electronic waste wasn’t recycled, that translates as nearly $47 billion worth of valuable metals that were never recovered.

E-Waste Is Not Biodegradable

E-waste does not biodegrade, and therefore will accumulate wherever it is dumped, in much the same way that plastic waste does.

Over time, any greenhouse gases contained within the e-waste will slowly be released into the atmosphere.

E-Waste Pollutes the Environment With Hazardous Substances

The toxic materials such as mercury and BFR plastics that are found in e-waste have a negative effect on the environment and health of people or animals that come into contact with it.

When disposed of improperly, these chemicals can be released indefinitely into the air, soil or water which is detrimental to ecosystems as well as human populations.

E-Waste Contributes to Climate Change

When e-waste materials are not recycled, new raw materials are required to create new EEE. Every electronic device manufactured has its own carbon footprint.

The extraction and refinement of materials required to produce EEE creates greenhouse gases. This could be reduced or avoided if e-waste was recycled.

Also, refrigerants used in temperature control EEE such as refrigerators or air conditioners are themselves greenhouse gases. In 2019, discarded fridges and air con units released CO2 equivalents that actually accounted for around 0.3% of total global energy-related emissions.

The Final Word

Electronic waste is an under-reported yet still very significant global issue. It wastes precious resources, contributes to climate change, is hazardous to the environment and to human health.

Worst of all, it’s completely unnecessary. This is one issue that each of us can help to tackle at an individual level. If we make a conscious decision to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, our choices can make a big difference.

Firstly, we need to dispose of used EEE correctly.

In developed countries, we all have access to facilities that will recycle our used electronic equipment for us. The fact that so many people don’t do this is down to either a lack of education or sheer laziness.

Secondly, we can choose to buy sustainable options.

We’ve seen that smaller items add up to the largest share of global e-waste. So make simple choices such as buying an eco-friendly phone case instead of a plastic one, or choosing a sustainable electric toothbrush with recyclable heads.

Be mindful of what you buy, how you use it, and how you dispose of it when it’s finally at the end of its lifespan.

Thirdly, don’t be so hasty in discarding old technology.

Many items can be repaired rather than replaced, often much more cheaply than simply spending on a newer model.

Also consider that the less frequently and more carefully we use our electrical appliances, the longer they last.

E-waste is the one problem that we can do something about without relying on corporations or governments. So let’s all do our bit. Your children, and theirs, will thank you for it.

References

Geneva Environment Network | United Nations University | World Economic Forum | Allied Market Research | ERI Direct

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Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.
Arabella Ruiz
Arabella Ruiz is a senior researcher at The Roundup. She lives in San Antonio, Texas and has been interested in the environment from an early age. Arabella loves to campaign for environmental causes and fundraise for charities that aim to preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered species or help people with climate change problems.

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