While some mobile phones are recycled, the international waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) forum estimated that 5.3 billion would be thrown away in 2022.
But how much e-waste do telecom and other IT devices generate here in the UK and how does that compare to the rest of the world?
When it comes to e-waste, mobile phones fall under the category of “IT and telecoms”, alongside items such as laptops, tablet computers and fax machines.
In 2021, 36,681 tonnes of household waste electrical and electronic equipment was generated from such items, a 15% increase on 2020. However, this could actually be a slight misrepresentation, with the amount of electronic waste dropping drastically following the coronavirus pandemic.
Since records began in 2008, the amount of IT and telecoms waste electrical and electronic equipment has steadily grown. In 2008 there were 19,053 tonnes, which rose to 52,008 tonnes in 2016 (a 173% increase).
While this started to tail off in the following years, particularly in 2020 due to the pandemic, there are signs that e-waste has started to rise once again.
In total, IT and telecoms e-waste has increased by just under double (98%) between 2008 to 2022. If it were to follow this trend in future, we could be generating just under 55,000 tonnes by 2030.
This means that the number of toxic materials being released into the atmosphere via e-waste would be at an all-time high. Not only this, but it also means that we would be throwing away vast amounts of precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, platinum and aluminium.
|Year||Household waste electrical and electronic equipment (tonnes)|
*Estimate based on Jan to Jun 2022 figures
**Estimates based on 2008 - 2022 figures
1. Norway - 26 kg per capita
Looking at e-waste more generally, Norway is the worst offender, generating 26 kg per person.
While it clearly still has some way to go, Norway has taken steps to improve its e-waste management, through a ‘take back’ scheme.
This means that companies that produce electrical or electronic equipment and batteries have to help finance the electronic waste and recycling industry.
2. United Kingdom - 23.9 kg per capita
The UK generates the second highest amount of e-waste per capita in the world, with 23.9 kg.
What’s more, recent research suggests that by 2024, the UK will overtake Norway to become the world’s biggest contributor.
It is also estimated that around 40% of the UK’s e-waste is illegally exported to be disposed of in other countries.
3. Switzerland - 23.4 kg per capita
Not far behind the UK, producing 23.4kg per capita of e-waste is Switzerland. Like Norway, Switzerland is known for being an environmentally conscious country.
Similarly to Norway, Switzerland also has a ‘take-back’ system to encourage companies to tackle the issue. The programs benefit municipalities by lowering their overall electronic waste disposal costs and reducing the burden on landfill sites.
Switzerland has also been at the forefront of trying to prevent the exporting of e-waste to countries such as Ghana.
|Rank||Country||Region||National e-waste legislation/policy or regulation in place||E-waste generated (kt)||E-waste generated per capita (kg)|
Every phone that you’ve thrown away in your life has a carbon footprint and if you are eager to always have the latest handset, that footprint could be quite large.
It’s estimated that throughout its life, a smartphone produces 93 kg of CO2, which when you consider the billions of phones around the world, is a significant amount.
Not only do the carbon emissions generated from throwing away a phone contribute to climate change, but they also have multiple adverse effects on the environment.
Our carbon footprints contribute to air pollution, the acidification of the ocean (which causes acid rain), as well as melting polar ice caps and glaciers.
To find out how many kilograms of CO2 your smartphones have produced, enter the number of handsets you’ve owned in your lifetime below.
It’s important for us all to take steps where we can to reduce our own e-waste and reduce our impact on the earth.
Rather than buying a new phone when your contract is up, consider opting for a SIM only deal instead and stick to your current model. Not only are SIM only deals often more affordable, but they likewise help to extend a handset's lifespan.
Endeavour to make your phone last as long as possible by looking after it and keeping it in a good condition. This could mean making sure not to overcharge the battery, keeping it clean and free of dust, or keeping it in a protective case.
If you do need to dispose of a mobile phone, consider donating or recycling it instead of throwing it away. This could mean giving the phone to a friend or family member, donating to a charity shop, or selling to a recycling service.
When you are disposing of electrical or electronic equipment and batteries, make sure that you do so responsibly and at the correct facilities. Take the time to review the user guide for your device to check how to properly dispose of it.