Regional economic potential for recycling consumer waste electronics in the United States

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Journal Article

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Waste electronics are a growing environmental concern but also contain materials of great economic value. If properly recycled, waste electronics could enhance the sustainability of vital metal supply chains by offsetting the increasing demand for virgin mining. However, rapid changes in the size and composition of electronics complicate their end-of-life management. Here we couple material flow and geospatial analyses on over 90 critical consumer electronic products and find that over 1 billion devices, representing up to 1.5 million tonnes of mass, could be discarded annually in the United States by 2033. Emerging electronics such as connected home, health and augmented/virtual reality devices have become the fastest-growing types in the waste stream. We highlight policy opportunities to develop various sustainable circularity strategies around metal supply chains by showing the potential to integrate waste electronics and virgin mining pathways in western US regions, while new infrastructure designed specifically for waste electronics treatment is favourable in the central and eastern United States. Furthermore, we show the importance of building national-level refining and tear-down databases to improve electronics end-of-life management in the next decade.


Nature Sustainability

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