Most people know that accumulating waste is a global problem. However, little attention is paid to e-waste. What is it? Phones, radios, toys, laptops – if you have a plug-in or battery-powered device, chances are it’s plugged into the growing mountain of e-waste after use.
The fastest growing household waste
Discarded electronic products are the fastest growing household waste worldwide. These products can help improve living standards and it’s good that more and more people can afford them. However, growing global demand is outstripping our ability to safely recycle or dispose of electronic products. Once these products become obsolete and discarded, they can accumulate in the environment, polluting it and harming people and wildlife. Each year, the total amount of electrical and electronic equipment the world uses grows by 2.5 million tonnes.
In 2019 alone, the world produced 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste. That’s about 7.3 kilograms per person and a weight equivalent to 350 cruise ships. Asia produced the largest share – 24.9 million tonnes, followed by the Americas (13.1 million tonnes) and Europe (12 million tonnes), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 and 0.7 million tonnes respectively.
What are the prospects?
By 2030, the global amount is likely to increase to 74.7 million tonnes, almost double the annual amount of new e-waste in just 16 years. This makes it the fastest growing domestic waste stream in the world, driven mainly by more people buying electronic products with shorter lifetimes and fewer repair options.techniques.By 2030, the global amount is likely to increase to 74.7 million tonnes, almost double the annual amount of new e-waste in just 16 years. This makes it the fastest growing domestic waste stream in the world, driven mainly by more people buying electronic products with shorter lifetimes and fewer repair options.
How much waste is recycled?
Only 17.4% of 2019 e-waste was formally collected and recycled. Since 2014, the amount of e-waste recycled has only increased by 1.8 million tonnes each year. The total amount of e-waste generated has increased by 9.2 million tonnes over the same period. At the same time, the amount of undocumented e-waste is increasing.
The new research found that Europe had the highest collection and recycling rate, covering about 42.5% of the total e-waste generated in 2019. Asia ranked second with 11.7%, the Americas and Oceania were similar with 9.4% and 8.8%, and Africa had the lowest rate at 0.9%. What happened to the rest (82.6%) of the world’s e-waste generated in 2019 is unclear. In high-income countries, it is estimated that around 8% of e-waste is discarded in trash bins, while between 7% and 20% is exported. In lower-income countries, the picture is less clear, as e-waste is mostly managed informally.
What is the danger?
Without a reliable waste management system, toxic substances in e-waste such as mercury, brominated flame retardants, CFCs and HCFCs are more likely to be released into the environment. Mercury is used in computer monitors and fluorescent lighting, but exposure to it can cause brain damage. It has been estimated that about 50 tonnes of mercury is contained in these undocumented streams of electronic waste that end up in the environment each year.