Canada’s e-waste triples in just two decades
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Canada’s electronic waste (e-waste) has more than tripled in the last two decades and generated close to a million US tons in 2020 alone.
The University of Waterloo researchers completed the first comprehensive estimate of e-waste in Canada to understand its lifecycle, from sales of electronic items to e-waste generation.
Their findings reveal that the e-waste generation per person has increased from 8.3kg in 2000 to 25.3kg in 2020. The e-waste in Canada is expected to continue rising in the near future and underscores the need for proactive forecasts to better manage the evolving electronics sector.
“This study provides useful insights to policymakers for setting up targets for e-waste reduction and recycling to recover valuable resources from e-waste,” said researcher Komal Habib. “E-waste could also help to create a secondary supply chain of critical materials, reducing the risks of potential supply disruptions.”
According to a report from 2020, global e-waste quantities grew by a massive 21 per cent in the previous five years and only around one-sixth was properly recycled.
In Canada, the estimated growth of e-waste is attributed to consumer habits and a growing population.
The study found that large household appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, dominate the e-waste stream considering mass. However, the less bulky items dominate in quantity: household lighting is the top item, followed by toys and sports equipment, and information technology (IT) and telecommunications equipment, such as cellphones and laptops.
There are pros and cons of the expected increase in e-waste for the recycling industry, the researchers said. When it comes to IT and telecommunication equipment, the industry’s efforts to make lightweight products are leading to the dilution of precious and critical materials per product, creating a challenge for recyclers to recover. However, increasing quantities of this e-waste could lead to potential incentives for the continuous operation of the recycling industries.
“The findings will be beneficial for stakeholders to explore possible material and revenue generation opportunities from e-waste,” said Habib. “For example, it can help electronic manufacturers and recyclers to understand the potential for urban mining, plan for future extractions of critical materials and identify the need for safe handling of any hazardous materials.”
The study also indicates that more attention should be given to improving repair, refurbishment and product life-extension opportunities, rather than focusing solely on recycling and material recovery.
According to data from the Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership, British households typically generate 55kg of e-waste annually - the second-highest figure in Europe after Norway.
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