According to UN, 8 kg of e-waste per person will be produced worldwide in 2023. This means 61.3 million tonnes of electronic waste discarded within a year – more than the weight of the Great Wall of China. Only 17.4 per cent of this waste, containing a mixture of harmful substances and precious materials, will be recorded as being properly collected, treated and recycled globally. The remaining 50,6 million tonnes will be either placed in landfill, burned or illegally traded and treated in a sub-standard way or simply hoarded in households. Even in Europe, which leads the world in e-waste recycling, only 55% of e-waste is officially reported as collected and recycled and the lack of public awareness is preventing countries from developing circular economies for electronic equipment.

This is why, believing education is part of the answer to the e-waste issue, the WEEE Forum and its members held, on 14 October 2023, the sixth edition of the International E-Waste Day. This year, the focus of this global awareness raising action was ‘invisible e-waste’ – all the e-gadgets we don’t easily recognise as such. Under the slogan “You can recycle anything with a plug, battery or cable!”, nearly 200 organisations from 54 countries, spread across 6 continents, officially registered and developed different kinds of activities to promote the correct treatment of electrical and electronic equipment to enable reuse, refurbishment and recycling. Countless other entities also joined the celebrations marking the day with e-waste collections, news reports and online and other awareness raising campaigns.

For the occasion, WEEE Forum commissioned a study with the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to assess how much ‘invisible’ e-waste is produced. The results of the research were staggering: almost 1/6th of all electronic waste by mass – 9 billion kg per year could go unnoticed. E-toys alone account for 1/3 of this category with 7.3 billion pieces generated each year – that’s almost one discarded e-toy for every person on the planet. Other examples of ‘invisible’ gadgets are vapes – quickly gaining in popularity in many countries; 844 million of these devices were thrown away last year. This equals the weight of six Eiffel Towers. Infographics containing more of the report’s statistics are available here.

To show how problematic proper recognition of electronic devices can sometimes be, the WEEE Forum with its members, undertook street surveys where members of the public were asked to identify some of the electronic devices. See the results here!

Through a collaboration with the WEEE Forum’s network of PROs’, a series of videos was also produced in which professionals representing different actors in the value chain explain the issue of invisible e-waste from their perspective.

The WEEE Forum members, who act as leaders of International E-Waste Day activities in the countries they cover, secured large national media coverage by hosting conferences, e-waste collections, as well as TV and radio appearances and high-level promotion on social media. The international press coverage, including articles by BBC, Financial Times, Newsweek, New Scientist, Independent and many other national news wires and influential media news outlets worldwide resulted in an estimated reach of over 2 billion people.

On the policy side, many national environment agencies and ministries took part in the celebrations and the EU Commissioner for Environment, Virginijus Sinkevičius, honoured the day with a dedicated video message.

Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum, expressed his satisfaction with the results of the campaign, “To have such widespread involvement in International E-Waste Day, including big companies, authorities and international organisations, but also small businesses, schools, universities, NGOs and many other players involved in the e-waste sector was, for us, proof that a collaboration between #allactors in the field is possible. We remain hopeful that the opportunities and the momentum we have created will be seized to tackle the e-waste issue more efficiently”.

A short overview of all the activities can be found below:

The infographics, animations, videos and other materials prepared for this edition of the International E-Waste Day can be found here.

About

The WEEE Forum a.i.s.b.l. is an international association representing 51 producer responsibility organisations across the globe. Together with our members, we are at the forefront of turning the extended producer responsibility principle into an effective electronic waste management policy approach through our combined knowledge of the technical, business and operational aspects of collection, logistics, de-pollution, processing, preparing for reuse and reporting of e-waste. Our mission is to be the world’s foremost e-waste competence centre excelling in the implementation of the circularity principle.

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