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, believed to be the fastest growing part of the world’s domestic waste stream.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2017, launched on Wednesday, December 13, 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 $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 generates 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.