WEEE found that invisible e-waste accounts for one-sixth of e-waste disposed of annually

Invisible e-waste constitutes a significant portion of the annual global total of e-waste, accounting for 8 billion pounds lost to the global economy.

Mom teach Gen Z preteen girl kid dump paper glass can e-waste bag in reuse bin

E-waste, all unwanted or non-working electronic products that need to be discarded, is a growing issue for the global economy. These materials typically include computers, microwaves, recorders, television sets, copiers, and the like, and in 2019, it was estimated that some 53.6 million tonnes were generated across the globe. However, only a fraction gets recorded as correctly collected, treated, and recycled, even in Europe, the global leader in e-waste recycling. 

The invisible e-waste, which goes unnoticed due to its nature or appearance, leads consumers to overlook its recyclable potential, which constitutes the majority of e-waste generated. These usually include household items such as power tools, toys, e-cigarettes, smoke detectors, or cables. 

In 2022, a study commissioned by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum (WEEE) through the UN Institute of Training and Research (UNTAR) into electronic waste materials revealed that of the 74 average total e-products found in households, 13 are being hoarded (nine of them unused but working and four broken). At a more granular level, the study found that 7.3 billion e-toys like drones, race cars, and talking dolls constitute some 35% of annual invisible e-waste and that headphones and remote controls were found to top the list.

The UN estimates there will be 61.3 million tonnes of e-waste in 2023, an average of 8 kg of e-waste per person.

Why does it matter?

This issue is particularly problematic for two main reasons. Electronic devices disposed of incorrectly end up in landfills or incinerators, resulting in the leaking of hazardous substances like lead, mercury, and cadmium into the soil. Noteworthy also is the fact that the valuable resources contained in these gadgets, which were estimated to be some 8 billion pounds, often never return to the manufacturing cycle and end up being lost to economies.