A record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21 per cent in just five years, the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020 said on Thursday.
The report also predicts global e-waste generation — discarded products with a battery or plug — will reach 74 Mt by 2030, almost a doubling of e-waste in just 16 years.
This makes e-waste generation the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fueled mainly by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few options for repair.
Only 17.4 per cent of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled. This means that gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at $57 billion — a sum greater than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries — were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse.
According to the report, Asia generated the greatest volume of e-waste in 2019, some 24.9 Mt, followed by the Americas (13.1 Mt) and Europe (12 Mt), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 Mt and 0.7 Mt respectively.
For perspective, last year’s e-waste weighed substantially more than all the adults in Europe, or as much as 350 cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary 2, enough to form a line 125 km long.
E-waste Generation is a health and environmental hazard, containing toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury, which damages the human brain and/or coordination system.
Proper e-waste management can help mitigate global warming.
In 2019, an estimated 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents were released into the atmosphere due to E-Waste Generation, discarded fridges and air-conditioners, contributing roughly 0.3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Since 2014, the number of countries that have adopted a national e-waste generation policy, legislation or regulation in place has increased from 61 to 78.
While a positive trend, this is far from the target set by the International Telecommunication Union which is to raise the percentage of countries with an e-waste generation legislation to 50 per cent.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 is a collaborative product of the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP), formed by UN University (UNU), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), in close collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) also substantially contributed to this year’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020.