A report on global e-waste – discarded products with a battery or plug – shows 44.7m metric tonnes (Mt) generated in 2016… up 3.3Mt or 8% from 2014.
In 2016 the world generated e-waste – everything from end-of-life refrigerators and television sets to solar panels, mobile phones, and computers – equal in weight to almost nine Great Pyramids of Giza, 4,500 Eiffel Towers, or 1.23m fully loaded 18-wheel 40-ton trucks, enough to form a line 28,160 km long, the distance from New York to Bangkok and back.
Experts foresee a further 17% increase — to 52.2m metric tonnes of e-waste by 2021 — the fastest growing part of the world’s domestic waste stream.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2017 is a collaborative effort of the United Nations University (UNU; represented through its Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme hosted by UNU’s Vice-Rectorate in Europe), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).
Only 20% of 2016’s e-waste is documented to have been collected and recycled despite rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, and other high-value recoverable materials.
The conservatively estimated value of recoverable materials in last year’s e-waste was US $55bn, which is more than the 2016 Gross Domestic Product of most countries in the world.
About 4% of 2016’s e-waste is known to have been thrown into landfills; 76%, or 34.1 Mt, likely ended up incinerated, in landfills, or recycled in informal (backyard) operations, or remain stored in our households.
Falling prices now make electronic and electrical devices affordable for most people worldwide while encouraging early equipment replacement or new acquisitions in wealthier countries, the report says. As a result, the average worldwide per capita e-waste generated was 6.1 kilograms, up 5% from 5.8 kg in 2014.
The report calls for stepped-up global efforts to better design components in electrical and electronic equipment to facilitate reuse and recycling, greater capture and recycling of old equipment, and better tracking of e-waste and the resource recovery process.
More countries are adopting e-waste legislation, the report says. Today 66% of the world’s people, living in 67 countries, are covered by national e-waste management laws (up from 44% in 61 countries in 2014) — an increase caused mainly by India’s adoption of legislation last year.
Still, only 41 countries quantify their e-waste generation and recycling streams officially, and “the fate of a large majority of e-waste (34.1 of 44.7 Mt) is simply unknown”.