Electronic waste is declining

Electronic waste is declining despite reliance on devices. The biggest contributor to the decline is the disappearance of bulky televisions and computer monitors, says the new study.

The total mass of electronic waste generated by Americans has been declining since 2015, according to a study led by Yale School of the Environment’s Center for Industrial Ecology.

The biggest contributor to this decline is the disappearance of the large, bulky cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions and computer monitors from American homes, says Callie Babbitt, one of the study’s authors, in the statement.

This decline in bulkier displays means that e-waste regulations may have to be rethought, says Babbitt, as they set targets based on product mass.

A more pertinent concern now is how to recover elements like cobalt (used in lithium-ion batteries) or indium (found in flat-panel displays).

The sheer number of electronic devices entering the waste stream is also leveling off or slightly declining, saythe authors. This is due to something that Babbitt terms ‘convergence’: gaming consoles, for example, can act as DVD players; smartphones are also cameras and video recorders. In the past, says Babbitt, people needed separate devices for each of those applications.

In the United States, e-waste recycling is regulated at the state level, and only half the states have e-waste recycling laws. That leads to a patchwork of regulations which makes it harder for companies to navigate if they wanted to make their products easier to recycle, says Babbitt. A more holistic, federal approach could help increase the overall capture of rare elements.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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