Q- How much e-waste is in the waste stream?
A- Used consumer electronics represent less than two percent of the municipal solid waste stream. In 2005, discarded tv’s’ pc’s’ peripherals (including printers, scanners, faxes), mice, keyboards and cell phones totaled about 2 million tons. Of that, about 80-85% (1.5 to 1.9 million tons) was discarded, primarily in landfills.

Q- How much e-waste is recycled?
A- In 2005, discarded tv’s, pc’s, peripherals (including printers, scanners, faxes), mice, keyboards and cell phones were recycled at a rate of about 15-20 percent (345,000 to 379,000 tons). The recycled/disposed split remained fairly constant between 1999-2005. Although recycling continues to increase, the percentage recycled remains constant because of the ever-increasing number of electronics available for end of life management.

Q- How many consumer electronics are still in use or storage, of those sold since 1980?
A- Almost half (or 976 million units) of products sold between 1980 and 2004 are still in use or reuse. Nine percent (180 million units) of products sold between 1980 and 2004 are still in storage.

Q- How much e-waste is exported?
A- To date, we have only examined export of CRTs. In 2005, approximately 61 percent (about 107,500 tons) of CRT monitors and TVs collected for recycling were exported for remanufacture or refurbishment. The next largest portion, about 14 percent (or 24,000 tons) was CRT glass sold to markets abroad for glass-to-glass processing.

Q- What are the substances of potential concern in electronics?
A- Lead, mercury, cadmium and brominated flame retardants are among the substances of concern in electronics. These substances are included in the products for important performance characteristics, but can cause problems if the products are not properly managed at end of life.

  • Lead is used in glass in TV and PC cathode ray tubes as well as solder and interconnects; older CRTs typically contain on average 4 lbs of lead (sometimes as much as 7 lbs in older CRTs), while newer CRTs contain closer to 2 lbs of lead.
  • Mercury is used in small amount in bulbs to light flat panel computer monitors and notebooks.
  • Brominated flame retardants are widely used in plastic cases and cables for fire retardancy; the more problematic ones have been phased out of newer products but remain in older products.
  • Cadmium was widely used in ni-cad rechargeable batteries for laptops and other portables. Newer batteries (nickel-metal hydride and lithium ion) do not contain cadmium. PVC is used in wire and cable sheathing.

Q- Are cell phones that are collected for reuse or recycling going to be managed in a safe way?
A- Most cell phones that are collected in the US go either to a charitable organization for reuse or to a relatively small number of US companies who refurbish them for reuse and recycle those that cannot be reused. Although there is some markets for used cell phones in the US (such as domestic abuse programs), the principal markets for used and refurbished cell phones are in Latin America and South America. The marketing of used cell phones in these developing economies avails many people the access to modern communication technology who would not otherwise be able to afford it. In nearly all cases, collected cell phones that are obsolete or irreparable are sent to environmentally sound smelters in Canada or Europe for recovery of copper and precious metals.

Q- What products can be made from the materials recovered by recycling cell phones?
A- Almost all of the materials used to manufacture a cell phone can be recovered to make new products. Metals, plastics, batteries and the packaging materials can be recycled and turned into new products.

Cell phones contain a number of different metals – gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, copper, tin, lead, brass and zinc – that can be extracted and recovered in the recycling process. The recovered metals can be used by a number of different industries such as jewelry, plating, electronics, plumbing, automotive, and art foundries. Products that can be manufactured from the recovered materials include automotive catalytic converters, plumbing faucets and piping, and gold or silver jewelry. The plastic on the cell phone can also be recycled. It can be recycled into new products as garden furniture, license plate frames, non-food containers and replacement automotive parts. Due to its high thermal value, the plastic could alternatively be used as a fuel.

The cell phone packaging materials can also be recycled and made as a component of fiber board manufacture. When the rechargeable battery can no longer be reused, the battery can be recycled into other rechargeable battery products.