As consumers hoard disused electronics, the UN warns that E-waste is growing five times faster than recycling capacity

Research by the UN finds that globally electronic waste (e-waste) is growing five times more quickly than recycling capacity. At the same time consumers are hoarding disused and forgotten electronics at home, leaving precious metals untapped.
April 9, 2024

The mounting issue of e-waste

The latest edition of the UN’s  Global E-waste Monitor has revealed the staggering volume of electronics being disposed of annually. Their study finds that in 2022, e-waste reached 62 million tonnes, an increase of 82% since records were first started in 2010, making this equivalent in weight to more than 220 Empire State buildings (365,000 tonnes each). Concerningly, just 22.3% of this waste was recorded as having been formally collected and recycled in an environmentally sound manner[i], however this figure is an improvement on the 17.4% rate seen in 2019.

The UN finds that while formal collection and recycling grew from 8 billion kg in 2010 to 13.8 billion kg in 2022 (an average rate of 0.5 billion kg per year), e-waste generation has been growing by an average of 2.3 billion kg per annum. This means that e-waste generation is outpacing recycling by a factor of almost 5[ii]. The report claims that this is being driven by technological progress, higher consumption, limited repair options, short product lifecycles, growing electronification and inadequate e-waste management infrastructure.

Regional variation is also significant, with documented formal collection and recycling rates varying greatly. Europe presently leads in terms of recycling rates (42.8%) but is also the region generating the highest amount of e-waste per capita (17.6 kg), contrastingly, African nations generate the lowest rates of e-waste but struggle to recycle it, with rates below 1%. The report also notes that countries in Asia are responsible for almost half of the world’s e-waste (30 billion kg), yet they have made limited advances in e-waste management; moreover, relatively few of them have enacted legislation or established clear e-waste collection targets.

Circularity gap growing

Earlier this year ZCA asked whether  the circular economy is at risk, given that in the past 6 years alone, the world consumed almost the same volume of materials used in the entire 20th century. This key finding from a study conducted by Circle Economy in partnership with Deloitte, was presented alongside findings that the volume of discussion, debate and articles around the circular economy has almost tripled over the past five years. However, during the same timeframe the share of secondary materials consumed by the global economy has decreased from 9.1% in 2018 to 7.2% in 2023, increasing the ‘circularity gap’ as the use of virgin materials rises[iii].

Consumers urged to clear out ‘drawers of doom’

With Europe’s mounting contributions to e-waste, a recent report by Material Focus provides insight into British contributions to the problem. The report, published last month found that as of 2021, UK homes were hoarding 880 million unused electronic goods. Most of these items were smaller electrical devices such as irons, clocks, and adaptors, this was followed by consumer electronics including headphones and TV remotes. There are vast amounts of precious metals, many of which are carbon intensive and environmentally damaging to extract, now sat in disused goods, and concerningly research suggests UK households are throwing away 103,000 tonnes of electricals, rather than recycling them[iv].

Scott Butler, executive director of Material Focus, told the BBC that we probably all have a "drawer of doom", which has "got cables in there that we don't know what they're for: it's got a DVD remote for a DVD player that we lost a long, long time ago"[v] He added: “If you look at the electricals that we're throwing away and that we're holding onto [in the UK], we think over a £1bn billion in value of 'treasure', is sitting there untapped. That material is also quite crucial for the green technology future that we're aiming for."[vi]

To combat e-waste in the UK, Material Focus has called for more household and retailer e-waste collections, as well as easier-to-access information on recycling services from councils and the Government.


[i] Global-E-waste-Monitor-2024.pdf (

[ii] Ibid

[iii] CGR 2024 (

[iv] UK Electrical Waste: Challenges & Opportunities 2023 - Material Focus

[v] E-waste drawers of doom growing, say campaigners (

[vi] Ibid

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Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

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