Since 1930 in Europe, we use every year more and more devices powered by electricity. At first, it was small items such as reading lamps, radios or small appliances. With technological development appeared washing machines, vacuum cleaners, televisions and phones… Eighty-five years later, each and every household in Europe has an average of 35 objects or electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).
Evolution of the average number of electronic devices per household in Europe:
The 30's saw the beginnings of home appliances in European households, partly due to the development of electricity grids. It was only in the 60s with --among other things-- equipped kitchens, that European households would have a greater use of electric and electronic equipments. There were then 9 electronic objects per household.
The number of electrical and electronic objects rose until the mid-90s, which witnessed the rise of computers thanks to internet. From 2007 onward, the connected objects were common devices, smartphones mainly. A few years later, tablets and ultra-light laptops completed the panel.
Today we count an average of 35 electronic items per European household. Among those 35 electronic objects, 4 are WEEE (Wastes of Electrical and Electronic Equipments), in a word, electronic objects at the end of their life cycle. Among those 4 WEEE, only one will go through recycling.
Sources: Widmer, R (2005). "Global perspectives on e-waste". Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 25(5).
WEEE recycling prevents pollution and protects health.
Effects of WEEE's most hazardous substances on the human body:
WEEE are diverses, as well as the material they are made of. Some of these materials are proved to be harmful, toxic and sometimes lethal for humans and animals.
Among those hazardous materials, there's cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury as metals, and PVS and PCB as substances. All of these materials, when they disintegrate, do not have the same harmfulness.
The least hazardous is PCB, it's harmful to the nervous system and the brain. Then come cadmium and PVC; the first one is harmful for lungs and kidneys, the later for the brain. Mercury and lead, two notoriously hazardous metals, are harmful and sometimes lethal for all body organs. The most dangerous is chromium. It is lethal if it reaches the brain, the heart, lungs or kidneys.
Those six substances spread in nature when WEEE are discarded in landfills. Compared to air pollution or arsenic, these substances are more hazardous to humans beings and animals.
Sources: Daya & Paine (2001). "Mechanisms of chromium toxicity, carcinogenicity and allergenicity…". Human & Experimental Toxicology. ·· Clifton (2007). "Mercury exposure and public health". Pediatric Clinics of North America. ·· Quinete et al (2014). "Occurrence & distribution of PCB metabolites in blood…". Environmental Science and Pollution Research International.
Recycling generates jobs.
The more we recycle WEEE, the more jobs we generate.
When the average of recycled Wastes of Electrical and Electronic Equipments increases, jobs are created to manage the matching amount of wastes.
For instance, one additional recyled WEEE in each European household could allow for 45,000 jobs to be created. On average, two additional WEEE would create 85,000 jobs in Europe; 100,000 jobs for three WEEE.
Sources: Eurostats 2015 Friends of the Earth. (2010). More jobs, less waste: Potential for job creation through higher rates of recycling in the UK and EU, (September), 2–53.
Recycling saves raw materials.
Each year at a global level, we cumulate nearly 50 million tons of WEEE. Through the recycling of those 50 million tons of WEEE, the generated raw materials would allow the eco-responsible and sustainable creation of millions of objects: smartphones, computers, cars, bikes, public benches…
Sources: Eurostats 2015 Worldometers.info · Gartner's
The more we recycle, the less we'll need to use natural resources.
In 2006, the global WEEE recycling rate was lower than 20%. Today, we do recycle a bit more than 40% of our e-wastes. Using the recycled materials helps us to avoid taping into minerals and raw material from drilling; natural resources are preserved. The target for 2017 is to aim towards 50% of recycling activities. Recycling one WEEE out of two will still use more important natural resources than recycled content. Beyond 2025, the most optimistic forecast would allow to reach an 80% recycling rate. With nearly 4 out of 5 WEEE recycled or reused, the need for natural resources will be much lower.
By using the raw materials from WEEE recycling, we conserve the natural resources by reducing mining and extractions.