Despite the financial crisis the volume of electronics sold since 2009 has continued to grow. Americans now own around 3 billion electronic products, with a turnover rate of about 400 million units annually. These sales volumes and rapid turnover rates are creating the fastest growing waste stream in the world: in the US alone, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 372 million electronic units weighing 3.16 million tons entered the waste stream in 2007 and 2008. Less than 14% was recycled, while the rest went into dumps and incinerators. Much of what is recycled, moreover, is handled unsafely in developing countries, posing serious health and environmental risks.
This report from Dēmos assesses the scope of electronics consumption and resulting e-waste, the unique challenges policymakers face in handling this kind of waste, and steps we must take to gain control of the problem. Key aspects of the problem examined in Tackling High-Tech Trash include:
- Short product life-spans—the commercial and technological origins of rapid turnover in consumer electronics.
- The mounting scope of electronic waste—the downside of the surging worldwide electronics market.
- The major challenges of e-waste, including design and materials complexity, global supply chains, and unregulated recycling and e-scrap markets.
- The adverse health and environmental impacts of unregulated e-waste disposal, materials salvage, and recycling-for-reuse.
- Recent developments in e-waste export rules, private and public recycling initiatives, and green design and materials regulation to extend product life-spans and reduce overall toxicity.
- Assessing challenges to a more integrated life-cycle approach to electronics design, production, and recycling, with recommendations for specific policies to push for in the near term
[taken from executive summary]