By Godwin Oritse with agency reports
A new report on global e-waste – discarded products with a battery or plug – shows a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes (Mt) generated in 2016 – up 3.3 Mt 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 1.23 million fully loaded 18-wheel 40-ton trucks, enough to form a line from New York to Bangkok and back.
Experts foresee a further 17% increase – to 52.2 million metric tonnes of e-waste by 2021, – the fastest-growing part of the world’s domestic waste stream.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2017, launched today, 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 the US $55 billion, 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, recycled in informal (backyard) operations, or remain stored in our households.
On a per-capita basis, the report shows a rising trend as well.
Falling prices now make electronic and electrical devices affordable for most people worldwide while encouraging early equipment replacement or new acquisitions in wealthier countries.
As a result, the average worldwide per capita e-waste generated was 6.1 kilograms in 2016, up 5% from 5.8 kg in 2014.
The highest per capita e-waste generators (at 17.3 kilograms per inhabitant) were Australia, New Zealand, and the other the nations of Oceania, with only 6% formally collected and recycled.
Europe (including Russia) is the second-largest generator of e-waste per inhabitant with an average of 16.6 kg per inhabitant. However, Europe has the highest collection rate (35%).
The Americas generate 11.6 kg per inhabitant and collects only 17%, comparable to the collection rate in Asia (15%). However, at 4.2 kg per inhabitant, Asia generates only about one-third of America’s e-waste per capita.
Africa, meanwhile, generates 1.9 kg per inhabitant, with little information available on its collection rate.