Committed to connecting the world


The growing challenge of e-waste

E-waste Backgrounder


Challenges and opportunities

E-waste is referred to as almost any discarded household or business item with circuitry or electrical components with a power or battery supply.

Matching growth in ICT networks and services, latest estimates show that the world now discards approximately 50 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste per year – only 20% is recycled. In 2016, over 35 Mt was not documented, being either discarded in landfill, burned or illegally traded and treated in a sub-standard way every year.

E-waste contains substances, including mercury, cadmium and lead, which can end up polluting land, air and water and pose health risks, especially if treated inadequately.


On the upside, e-waste could represent an opportunity worth over 62.5 billion dollars per year if treated through appropriate recycling chains and methods, with the potential of creating millions of decent new 'clean and green' jobs worldwide.

Through greater collaboration among multinationals, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a 'circular economy' for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact could be reduced and decent work is created for millions.

A system in which all discarded products are collected and then the materials or components reintegrated into new products will:

Furthermore, harvesting the resources from used electronics substantially reduces carbon dioxide emissions, compared to raw resource extraction through mining or industrial extraction.

At the industry level, companies can research and establish their full supply chain, from sourcing to manufacture to distribution, to collection and disposal. Supply chain management must include responsible and ethical device disposal, as well as educating consumers about the importance of disposing of their devices responsibly.

Consumers can try to: get ICT equipment repaired instead of replaced; delay upgrading or exchanging functional smartphones for the latest model; use certified recycling points or disposal firms; consider giving ICT equipment a 'second life' through resale.

Reliable, official and comparable e-waste data and statistics provide the foundation for the development of sound domestic e-waste management policies and legislation. More than 40 countries are now compiling comparable national statistics on e-waste

ITU’s contribution


Last update: October 2019 ​