E-Waste Facts & Statistics on Materials
Yearly global e-waste figures
Every year we throw away between 20 and 50 million metric tons of e-waste. This estimate is from the United Nations.
Dumping waste in developing countries
Dumping e-waste in developing countries is a major problem. In 2014, for example, 41.8 million metric tons of this waste was shipped and dumped to developing countries. These actions also produce transport waste, further affecting resources and damaging the environment.
Poisoning residents of China
The U.S. sends a lot of e-waste to Guiyu, a town in China. This causes a major problem for the residents, including damaging their health by poisoning them. In addition, hydrochloric acid is often thrown over the waste. This is done to identify copper and steel, which can be stripped and reused. This is unhealthy though, plus there are reports of high concentrations of lead in the area.
Mining gold in your cell phone
Your phone contains gold - about 0.2 grams of the stuff. This means there is 10 metric tons of gold in every 50 million discarded phones.
Reuse other precious metals
Gold is only one material that can be recycled from mobile phones. There is also lead, coltan, palladium, copper, plastic, and nickel, all of which can be reused.
Breakdown of materials per phone
According to the EPA, one million mobile phones contain a total of 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, 35,274 tons of copper, and 33 pounds of palladium. Palladium is a precious metal that is most commonly used in electronics to make electrical contacts. It is a material used in the manufacture of watches, surgical instruments, and more.
Reduce worker exploitation
Many of the materials that are in phones are taken out of the earth, often through mining. Reusing them to helps to avoid the need for mining and its associated problems, including worker exploitation and the use of children to do the work.
$60 million lost per year just in gold & silver
Over $60 million worth of gold and silver is thrown away by Americans each year when they discard their phones.
Mining phones more profitable that ore
Mining for ore is big business, but recycling circuit boards can be even more profitable. This is because there is up to 800 times more gold in a ton of circuit boards than there is in a metric ton of ore. Also, there is up to 40 times more copper in circuit boards than can be found the same amount of ore.
How are other materials used?
Component parts of mobile phones are used in multiple ways. Batteries are broken down for parts to make other batteries, plastic is used for furniture production, and metals are used in jewelry and automotive parts manufacturing.
Landfill figures on heavy waste
EPEAT’s director of marketing, Jonas Allen, believes about 40 percent of the heavy materials that are currently in landfills in the U.S. can be accounted for by the electronic equipment that we have thrown away.
Huge business in recycling
Allen also believes there is as much as $12 billion extra of gold, silver, and platinum in mobile phones that could be found if recycled rates increased to 100 percent. Currently, we recycle 15 percent of gold and silver and five percent of platinum.
49 iPhone workers poisoned in the making of the first iPhone
Production of the first iPhone poisoned 49 workers at a factory in Taiwan responsible for building the touch screens. PVC and bromine in the iPhones caused the poisoning.