Today marks 'International E-waste Day 2020', developed in 2018 by the WEEE Forum, an international association of electronic waste collection schemes, to raise awareness on the ever-growing pile of e-waste, and to encourage consumers to recycle their e-waste. While the amount of e-waste is growing, we see a rapid increase in Critical Raw Materials (CRM), meaning raw materials of high importance to the EU and with high supply risks, as published by the European Commission. Back in 2011, this list contained 11 CRMs, which has expanded to a total of 30 today. Multiple studies show that at least 20 CRMs such as cobalt, tungsten and magnesium can be found within electronic products, and with lithium (a key material for batteries) joining the list since this year, the contribution of the electronics sector to material scarcity is increasing. Therefore the importance of proper e-waste handling, in order to secure future demand, is growing year by year.
A record of 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste was generated worldwide in 2019, according to the UN Global E-waste Monitor. Shockingly enough, it is only 17,4 percent that is collected and properly recycled. The other 82,6 percent is either landfilled, incinerated or illegally traded and treated in an incorrect way. To make this concrete in economic terms, this equals 50.8 billion euros of value that is wasted. And not only the economic loss makes the case for change evident. The high volume use of CRMs in electronics, and their design for obsolescence, results in a huge loss of valuable materials, which has a significant effect on both environmental and societal issues. Take for example the extraction of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This is tainted by severe ethical and humanitarian issues, including Child Labor, Corruption and hazardous artisanal mining.