You can recycle anything with a plug, battery or cable! International E-Waste Day to shed the light on ‘invisible’ electronic waste.

International E-waste Day is a yearly awareness raising celebration initiated by the WEEE Forum and its members and takes place every year on 14th of October. It aims to highlight the growing issue of electronic waste and promote responsible e-waste management.

This year’s edition will run under the slogan “You can recycle anything with a plug, battery or cable!” highlighting the issue of invisible e-waste – the electronic items that often go unrecognized and are not properly recycled within the appropriate waste stream. While e-waste is often associated with discarded gadgets and devices, a significant amount of electronic waste remains hidden in plain sight.

According to UN, 8 kg of e-waste per person will be produced worldwide in 2023. This means 61.3 million tonnes of electronic waste discarded within a year – more than the weight of the Great Wall of China. Only 17.4 per cent of this waste, containing a mixture of harmful substances and precious materials, will be recorded as being properly collected, treated and recycled globally. The remaining 50,6 million tonnes will be either placed in landfill, burned or illegally traded and treated in a sub-standard way or simply hoarded in the households. Even in Europe, which leads the world in e-waste recycling, only 54% of e-waste is officially reported as collected and recycled and the lack of public awareness is preventing countries from developing circular economies for electronic equipment.

What is the invisible e-waste?

Invisible e-waste refers to electronic waste that goes unnoticed due to its nature or appearance, leading consumers to overlook its recyclable potential. As today’s lifestyle is more and more technology oriented, a lot of products present on the market have an electrical or electronic components. This means that at the end of their lives, when they can no longer be reused or repaired, they should be part of the electronics’ recycling stream.

Some examples of this type of objects, largely present in households are: electric and electrotonic toys, e-cigarettes, power tools, smoke detectors, wearables, smart home gadgets, e-bikes and e-scooters or simply cables.

Why is invisible e-waste a problem?

According to the study developed in 2022 by UNITAR and WEEE Forum members in 6 countries, (UK, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and The Netherlands) of the 74 average total e-products in a household 13 are being hoarded (9 of them unused but working and 4 broken). Small consumer electronics and accessories (such as headphones, remote controls – often not recognised as electronic items) rank top of the list of hoarded products. If these gadgets remain in the drawers and cupboards, the valuable resources they contain cannot re-enter the manufacturing cycle and are lost.

When electronic devices and components are disposed of improperly because they were not recognised as e-waste, they often end up in landfills or incinerators. Electronics contain various hazardous substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and flame retardants, which can leach into soil and water sources, polluting ecosystems and posing risks to human health.

These devices also contain valuable resources, including precious metals like gold, silver, and copper, as well as rare and strategic elements also called Critical Raw Materials which are crucial for the green transition and production of new electronic devices. When e-waste is not recycled properly, these valuable materials go to waste. Mining and extracting new resources to meet the demand for new electronics production contribute to the depletion of finite resources and intensify environmental damage.

Join International E-Waste Day celebrations!

International E-Waste Day serves as a platform for raising awareness about the e-waste issue. Last year 194 organisations from 72 countries across 6 different continents registered as participants, with many more entities marking the day with activities, news reports and online campaigns. This year #ewasteday will again take place on 14 October 2023 and any e-waste related awareness raising activities are welcome to be part of it: from social media, TV and radio campaigns to city or school e-waste collections or even artistic performances.

Any organisations sensitive to the issue of e-waste and willing to participate are invited to register here.