New Report Shows Humans Generate A Staggering Amount Of Electronic Waste


As a species, we humans pride ourselves in the strides we’ve made in recent years in the field of “smart” technology. We’ve created ever-increasingly robust smartphones, smart TVs and even household lighting that’s smart. What we haven’t been too smart about is how we dispose of all of our technology and electrical equipment that we no longer use.

The United Nations University’s Sustainable Cycles Program has released a report titled “Global E-waste Monitor 2017,” and the figures provided in the report paint a pretty grim picture. What follows is an in-depth look at the facts and figures found in the report.

  • Humans threw away 44.7 million metric tons of electronic waste last year, an 8 percent increase in just two years.
  • Estimates show another 17 percent increase by 2021 if things don’t change, bringing the estimated total of E-waste produced to 52.2 million metric tons.
  • Only 20 percent of the E-waste generated in 2016 was actually recycled.
  • Seventy-six percent of the E-waste that was generated was either burned, thrown in a landfill or is still sitting in our houses.
  • From a profit standpoint, we left $55 billion in gold, copper, silver and other metals on the table because we didn’t recover them through recycling.
  • In 2016, the average person (globally) generated 13.4 pounds of E-waste.
  • Americans were a lot worse, as the average person living in America generated 25.5 pounds of E-waste.

So what exactly accounts for all of that E-waste?  Most of the waste–about 75 percent–can be lumped into three categories: small equipment, large equipment, and temperature-related equipment.

Small equipment includes things like microwaves, calculators, radios, cameras, mobile phones, computers, electronic toys, etc.

Large equipment includes things like washing machines, dryers, copy machines and large printing equipment.

Temperature-related equipment is referring to things like refrigerators, air-conditioning units, freezers and large heat pumps.

The good news is that many countries are instituting legislation that will help corral E-waste generation and how we dispose of it. As individual consumers, we can do our part to help fight the problem too. It’s as simple as taking care of the electronics we have and fighting the urge to buy the newest, shiniest gadget as soon as it comes out. And finally, when all else fails, we need to recycle our old gear responsibly.