Opting to handle your bills online keeps a lot of paper out of the bin, but the devices you use to go online eventually die anyway. If this “e-waste” ends up in a landfill, the energy and materials that went into manufacturing and delivering those devices are lost. And besides being unsustainable, disposal can expose people to hazardous metals and compounds.
Apart from a story here and there about a new e-waste recycling project, it’s hard to get an idea of just how much e-waste is getting tossed around the world. A new report from the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union helps paint a picture by providing some global statistics.
Altogether, the report estimates that nearly 45 million tons of electronics were thrown out in 2016—and only about 20 percent of it is known to have been recycled. The report puts the value of the raw materials in that 45 million tons of e-waste at about $55 billion ($9 billion from smartphones alone), but most of that waste isn’t being recovered.