Increasing e-waste poses huge environmental risk, causes economic losses


One area that desperately needs attention is how we deal with e-waste: discarded electronics, appliances and other products that have batteries or plugs.

In 2016, 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated, an increase of 3.3 million metric tonnes, or 8 per cent, from 2014. "Improved measurement of e-waste is essential to set and monitor targets, and identify policies", said Jakob Rhyner, Vice-Rector of the United Nations University.

Last year, the world produced 44.7 million tonnes of e-waste or 6.1 kg per person, which is four times more than the e-waste produced by each Indian. Experts foresee a further 17% increase - to 52.2 million metric tonnes of e-waste by 2021, according to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2017 - a new assessment report on global electronic waste (e-waste), policies and statistics. China, which has four times the population of the United States, came in at about 16 percent of the world's e-waste, with about 18 percent getting recycled.

The U.S. -where 30 percent of e-waste gets landfilled, exported or recycled informally-hasn't ratified the Basel Convention, which bans the transport of e-waste due to its association with heavy metals like lead and mercury. If this "e-waste" ends up in a landfill, the energy and materials that went into manufacturing and delivering those devices are lost.

Falling prices now make electronic and electrical devices affordable for most people worldwide while encouraging early equipment replacement or new acquisitions in wealthier countries. Africa, meanwhile, generates 1.9kg per inhabitant, but there is hardly any information on collection rates.

"E-waste is the most emblematic byproduct of this transition and everything shows that it will continue to grow at unprecedented rates", he said.

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The report also noted just how much of the waste we throw away actually still is useful.

Rüdiger Kühr, head of the UN University's Sustainable Cycles Programme, told Reuters this was a surprise considering 67 nations, covering two-thirds of the world's population, had legislation about processing e-waste.

In countries where there is no national e-waste legislation in place, e-waste is likely treated as any other waste, leading to a high risk that toxic elements in e-waste are improperly managed, sometimes scavenged for e.g. copper or gold by informal enterprises without proper worker protections.

According to the report, the total value of all raw materials from e-waste in 2016 is approximately $65 billion.

Such data is also needed to better track illegal global movements of e-waste from richer to poor regions in the world.

Although countries widely vary in recycling capacity, nowhere in the world is equipped to deal with increasing e-waste-there isn't a country that come closes to recycling even half.