Present Situation of ICT: Waste & Impact

Rafael Perez Medina, Enrico Agnese
July 12, 2022

Today, technology is critical in every industry. The optimization of production processes leads to an ever-increasing demand for high-performance devices, all over the planet, to meet the individual competitiveness of each country in a globalised world. The more technologically competitive a country becomes, the more electronic equipment it consumes.

The other side of the coin is that all this leads to a, more than appreciable, increase in electronic waste generated. In a Linear Economy perspective, taking into account the data provided by the Global E-Waste Monitor, which informs that the global consumption of EEE increases annually by 2.5 million Metric Tons (Mt) and then doubles by 2030, it will come to the point that the existing resources will not be enough to meet the demand.

Our current model, based on the economic linearity of supply chains, does not contemplate the circularity necessary to achieve progress sustainably; the absence of processes that can, in some way, help us achieve a less invasive solution leads to an increasingly limited availability of the necessary raw materials. The ICT sector is no exception.

The situation monitored globally in 2019 reports these figures: The continent that generated the most E-Waste was Asia (24.9 Mt), followed by the Americas (13.1 Mt); Europe (12 Mt), Africa (2.9 Mt) and Oceania (0.7 Mt).

If we make a per capita consumption analysis, Europe is in first place with an average consumption of 16.2 kg. Italy produced, in 2019, 1093 Kt of e-waste with a per capita average of 17.5 kg and of these, 369kt were certified as recycled corresponding to 33.7%, certainly better than the global average which stops at 17.4%.

Despite the fact that an increasing number of countries are adopting sustainable policies to address this problem, "possible" resources are wasted or misused due to the absence of processes to extend the life cycle of ICT products.

Suffice to say that, again provided by the Global E-Waste Monitor, the intrinsic value of raw materials present in global e-waste is equal to 57 billion dollars. On the other hand in a ton of waste (smartphones and/or PCs) contain about 280 grams of gold.

Another key figure is concerns CO2 emissions. A "brand new" device divides its CO2e consumption for 90% in the extraction of raw materials necessary for the production and for the remaining 10% corresponds to emissions during use. Therefore, it is not necessary to be a specialist in the sector to understand that by extending the life cycle of products, reconditioning them and recovering, in a sustainable manner, the raw materials from EOL products, we can meet the need for materials necessary for progress.