The total volume of end-of-life electronics generated by Americans has been declining since 2015, down roughly 10%, according to a new study by the Yale School of Environment.
‘Older, bulkier electronics like cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and computer monitors are disappearing from the waste stream, with ramifications for the future of e-waste recycling,’ writes professor Callie Babbitt. CRT displays have been on the decline in the waste stream since 2011, helping to shrink the total e-waste mountain.
Besides, Yale reports the sheer number of electronic devices entering the waste stream is also leveling off. This is due to something called “convergence”: gaming consoles, for example, can act as DVD players; smartphones are also cameras and video recorders. In the past, people needed separate devices for each of those applications.
It’s time for US e-waste regulations to be reexamined, Babbitt argues. ‘If you look at the state laws, many of them set their targets based on product mass. As the overall mass of e-waste declines, meeting those targets becomes more difficult,’ she says. They still focus on mercury leaking into the environment, too, rather than the more pressing concern of recovering precious and rare earth metals.
Failing to recapture elements like cobalt (lithium-ion batteries) and indium (flat-panel displays) for reuse in new electronics is slammed as incredibly wasteful. ‘The e-waste recycling system is somewhat backwards-looking,’ Babbitt argues. ‘It has struggled to keep pace with the changing nature of electronics.’
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