i3 | April 05, 2021

The Declining Electronics Waste Stream

Katie Reilly

The consumer tech industry has demonstrated and delivered on the promise that innovation and sustainability can go hand in hand. CTA’s members are focused on material use, size, efficiency, longevity and recyclability of their products. Sustainable innovation is now integrated into the entire lifecycle of the product — and the results are speaking for themselves.

A recent study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology found that electronic waste (or e-waste) generated in the U.S. has been declining since 2015 by as much as 10%. The study’s results go against the largely held belief that e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream here in the U.S. This finding is significant and builds on research conducted by the Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT’s) Golisano Institute for Sustainability in collaboration with CTA and the Staples Sustainable Innovation Lab.

This research focused on mapping the material footprint of consumer electronics and found that while the number and type of tech devices in homes increased, the net material consumption of those devices has decreased to levels not seen since the early 1990s. These source reduction and waste generation achievements are enabled by three important trends: technological shifts, convergence of multi-functional devices and the use of lightweight materials.

sustainability graphic

These trends are also supported by the latest government data. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) latest Advancing Sustainable Materials Management Facts and Figures report published in November 2020, electronics are again the fastest declining segment of the municipal solid waste stream. According to the EPA data, consumer electronics waste generation declined by 4.9% from 2017 to 2018 — the next closest material or product type decreased by only 1.4%.

The consumer tech industry has established a trajectory that truly is sustainable — using less materials in our products even as demand for devices increases. The front-end investments are also being met with back-end solutions. Through continued innovation and leadership from the consumer technology industry, CTA and its members are working to increase recycling and make it easier for consumers to recycle their used electronics.

CTA's members are leading the way, supporting certified recycling programs throughout the U.S. Many of these companies also provide repair networks for their products that deliver safe, effective and secure services to customers. For more information, visit GreenerGadgets.org

i3 magazine March/April 2021 cover

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