How much electronic waste is generated in Washington?
Based on reported recycling data and statistical sampling of disposed solid waste, it is estimated that about 194 million pounds of electronic waste (or e-waste) was generated (recycled or disposed) in Washington in 2013. Actual e-waste generated in the state could be much higher, since some is stockpiled or stored indefinitely before being disposed or recycled. About 103 million pounds of the total generated was recycled, or 53 percent, with the remaining 92 million pounds, or 47 percent, disposed. In addition to the electronics recycled, a small amount are refurbished for reuse, however this indicator does not track that amount.
Electronic products include:
- Audio and stereo equipment
- VCRs and DVD players
- Video cameras
- Telephones, cellular phones, and other wireless devices
- Fax and copy machines
- Game consoles
The trends for the overall and per capita amount of electronic waste generated and recycled are similar (see per capita data in the link above). The electronic waste recycled increased steadily from 2003 until 2013.
The amount of electronic waste generated increased at a sharper rate than the amount of electronic waste recycled due to a greater increase in the amount of electronic waste being disposed, as shown in the updated 2009 Washington Statewide Waste Characterization Study.
Note: The graph shows a dotted trend line since data is not available for all years. Disposed amounts are calculated as a percentage of electronics contained in municipal solid waste. Data from 2003 through 2007 is based on 2003 Waste Composition Analysis for the State of Washington, which shows that electronics make up 0.3 percent of municipal waste. Data from 2008 through 2012 is based on the 2009 Washington Statewide Waste Characterization Study, which shows electronics made up 1.0 percent of municipal waste.
While the generation of e-waste is increasing, which is not an environmentally sustainable trend, the good news is the recycling rate for electronics is increasing. In 2003, only 20 percent of e-waste was recycled, but in 2013, 53 percent of e-waste was recycled. The increased availability of recycling opportunities for computers and TV through the E-Cycle Washington program is no doubt part of the reason for this.
This indicator has an approximate 1.5-year time lag due to the process of gathering, compiling, and analyzing data and distributing information to stakeholders.
Why should we be concerned about how many electronics are being recycled?
The amount of electronics recycled indicates the extent to which value is being recovered from used electronics. It also indicates that toxic materials contained in electronics are being diverted from landfills or improper disposal.
What are the benefits of increased electronics recycling?
- Conserves valuable resources, including rare earth metals
- Reduces the threat of toxic materials entering the air, land, and water
- Creates jobs (approximately 80 jobs were created in Washington's recycling industry as a result of the E-Cycle Washington program)
What actions are being taken to increase electronics recycling?
The 2006 Washington State Legislature passed a bill on electronic products recycling, Chapter 70.95N RCW. This law created a system in which companies that make and sell certain electronic products are required to take back and recycle their products. Under this system, called the E-Cycle Washington program, consumers can drop off their used electronic products for free and manufacturers pay to recycle them. The E-Cycle Program started in January 2009 with TVs, computers, and monitors on the list of covered products in 2011 tablet computers and e-readers were added to that list and in 2013 portable DVD players were added.
In addition, we are:
- Encouraging industry to design electronics for easier recycling
- Supporting EPEAT (Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool) and government purchasing of the most environmentally preferable electronics
- Conducting an ongoing public education campaign to increase awareness of the free electronics recycling opportunities available through E-Cycle Washington
- Support expanding the number of electronic products included in the E-Cycle program