April 21, 2015
Waste Management World and Vice reported on the findings from the United Nations University (UNU) report, The global e-waste monitor 2014: quantities, flows and resources. The report found that discarded e-waste reached a volume of 41.8 million tonnes in 2014, with “less than one-sixth” recycled or reused – less than 16 percent of all produced.
60 percent of the e-waste discarded was kitchen, laundry and bathroom equipment, while ICT (information and communication technology) devices accounted for seven percent of all e-waste. Products included in this category were mobile phones, computers and printers. All of the e-waste represents what the report says is around $52 billion (€48 billion) of “potentially reusable resources”, including 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper and 300 tonnes of gold.
A breakdown of the 41.8 million tonnes consisted of: 12.8 million tonnes of small equipment (such as vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, electric shavers and video cameras); 11.8 million tonnes of large equipment (including washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves, and photovoltaic panels); seven million tonnes of temperature-exchange (cooling and freezing equipment); six million tonnes of screens; three million tonnes of small ICT equipment; and one million tonnes of lamps.
Other materials include “significant amounts of silver, aluminium [and] palladium”, while two nations – the US and China – disposed of “nearly one-third” of all the e-waste recorded last year. The 41.8 million tonnes are equivalent to 1.15 million 40-tonne 18-wheel trucks, which would – if placed end-to-end – stretch 23,000 kilometres, or New York City to Tokyo and back. Thanks to a “drive in rising sales” and “shorter lifespans for electronic goods”, the UNI predicts e-waste levels will rise “by more than 20 percent” to 50 million tonnes by 2018.
David Malone, UN Under-Secretary-General and Rector of UNU, stated: “Worldwide, e-waste constitutes a valuable ‘urban mine’—a large potential reservoir of recyclable materials. At the same time, the hazardous content of e-waste constitutes a ‘toxic mine’ that must be managed with extreme care.”
Despite take-back and treatment plans and methods, most e-waste “is not being collected and treated in an environmentally-sound manner”, the report concluded. Co-author Kees Baldé said that the report aims to “facilitate cooperation around controlling illegal trade, supporting necessary technology development and transfer, and assisting international organisations, governments and research institutes in their efforts as they develop appropriate countermeasures”.
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