New Study finds Electronic Waste on Decline

Date: December 1, 2020

Source: Yale School of the Environment's Center for Industrial Ecology

According to a study conducted by the Yale School of the Environment's Center for Industrial Ecology, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, the overall mass of electronic waste generated in the US has fallen since 2015. This is due in large part to the phasing out of older, larger cathode ray-tube TVs and computer monitors.

Newer flatscreen monitors produce different and less toxic waste and are also generally considerably smaller. This means that both the nature and volume of electronic waste produced by the US is changing. This presents US regulators with the challenge of adopting electronic waste policy. For a long time, electronic waste policy has been dominated by targets based on mass, which are based on the goal of reducing lead and mercury levels in landfills. However, the newer monitors produce far less lead and mercury but also contain higher levels of the rare earth metals cobalt and indium.

Many e-recycling industry leaders are calling on firms and regulators to shift policies towards recycling the rare earth metals and moving away from mass-based targets. Due to the complex nature of mining and exporting the metals, the supply of them is highly variable. Efficiently recycling cobalt, indium and other metals will be a key part of any plan to stabilize the market for these rare earths and reduce the demand for environmentally taxing mining needed to produce new supply.

Callie Babbit, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology's Golisano Institute for Sustainability, also notes that "convergence" is also partially responsible for the reduction in e-waste mass. As new technologies like iPhones and Xbox's can perform the same tasks that once required multiple older generation technologies like gaming consoles, DVD players and stereos, the demand for the standalone technologies has decreased.

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