The US collection rate of e-waste is 1/4 the amount it generates

How do we handle America’s 20 to 50 million metric tons of annually produced e-waste?

By: Terri Rue-Woods, Information Assurance/Executive Officer, e-End

What if everyone in America one day just decided to toss out one of their electronic devices? Consider this... The current US population is approximately 323,978,000. Therefore if everyone threw away just one of their devices, can you imagine the resulting pile of junk?

According to data collected by The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership and reports conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US produced roughly 6,300* KT (kilotons) of electronic waste in 2016. Give or take a couple of classrooms of kids, that is basically averaging one device thrown away by everyone.

Data collected from the Environmental Protection Agency and reported by The Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership finds that out of the 6,295 kilotons of produced e-waste, the US only formally collected 1,400 kilotons. America’s rate of collecting electronic waste is roughly 24% annually.

Data collected from the Environmental Protection Agency and reported by The Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership finds that out of the 6,295 kilotons of produced e-waste, the US only formally collected 1,400 kilotons. America’s rate of collecting electronic waste is roughly 24% annually.

What is e-waste?

Electronic waste (e-waste) is a collection of discarded electrical or electronic devices. Any used electronic items such as cellphones, computers, stereos and A/V equipment, copiers and fax machines that have essentially reached their end of life, are considered as e-waste. Company that routinely replace obsolete device and individuals that ‘throw away’ their non-working electronic items help contribute to the large amount of e-waste. The generated amount of waste is considered as the combined collection of discarded electrical or electronic products (e-waste) created from a national territory’s consumption. The report of this collection is calculated from a given year, prior to any item collection, reuse, treatment, or exportation.

The waste produced from electronics is not at all uncommon. However the arising issue is the amount and the speed for which discarded electronics have grown in the past few years. In an article by David Manners in Electronics Weekly, he stated that “[the] US electronics production growth has been over 5% since December 2016.” Recognizing that,  “It had not been over 5% in over ten years, since November 2006.”

How much e-waste does the US actually process?

Despite the staggering numbers of discarded equipment, the US only ‘formally collects’ around 1,400 KT. This figure averages 24% of the e-waste lot. The formal collection of electronic waste refers to discarded electronic items that are managed in ways that conform to the EPA’s developed regulations, specifically for e-waste. This includes e-waste that is collected and later exported, and treated according to national standards in another country.

Now, consider this... In the same year, the United States manufactured and distributed an estimated 8,100 KT of electronic/electrical devices for both individual and commercial use. This figure includes all items that were distributed via payment, transfer, and donations. Adversely, according to the numbers, this means that American electronic consumers were discarding about 78% of their electronics whether it was from an exchange, replacement, just didn’t want it.

A comparison of the electronic distribution, waste production, and amount collected per selected country.

A comparison of the electronic distribution, waste production, and amount collected per selected country.

A National Comparison

To define a bigger picture, a comparison of a few national electronic manufacturing countries, such as the US; the United Kingdom; China; Japan; and Switzerland was performed to review the ratio of population versus the lifespan of the electronic devices. Overall, it was discovered that the US with its population slightly over 300 million ends up second with the largest electronic device production but low e-waste collection. China with its population just over one billion is at the top.

e-Waste Recycling Solutions

So now what? Are there any ideal solutions to work forward to? Well, a good way of helping to chip away at this gigantic and growing problem, both individuals and businesses should seek Earth-conscious solutions for discard their electronics. As stated in a press release from Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI), entitled, “An Earth Day Focus on Electronics: You can help turn “trash” into “treasure””, a few solutions are suggested to cut down on these numbers.

“Reuse is the most environmentally beneficial way to manage used electronic devices.  In many regions of the world, the demand for affordable refurbished devices is strong and has helped to bridge the digital divide.  Reuse of electronic parts and components is another sustainable option.” In addition, “by assuring that the electronic devices you no longer use are refurbished and reused, or recycled by a responsible electronics recycler. A helpful way of determining that an electronics recycler manages electronics responsibly is to find out if they are certified to the R2 (Responsible Recycling) Standard.  R2 certified recyclers adhere to the highest industry standards for safe and sustainable refurbishing, recycling, data destruction, and ensuring that your unwanted electronics do not end up in landfills.”

SERI is a non-profit organization dedicated to the responsible reuse, repair, and recycling of electronic products and the housing-body for the R2 Standard. SERI helps to regulate the required certifications electronic recyclers need to prove that they are genuinely committed to following the responsible practices necessary for proper e-waste disposal.

*numbers have been either rounded up or rounded down.

Information provided by the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership country statistics map.


If you need help deciding what to do with your old collected electronics, as mentioned, the best start would be to find a certified R2 recycler. e-End is both a NAID AAA and R2 certified Electronics Recycling company. e-End “strive to exceed the EPA’s standards for solid waste recycling and adhere to a zero-landfill policy for e-waste.” e-End offers IT Asset Disposition solutions for your businesses and electronics recycling collection for individuals, companies, and organizations. Review what items are accepted.