The ‘Global E-waste Monitor 2017’ cautioned that experts foresee a further 17% increase— 52.2 million metric tonnes—of e-waste by 2021, making it the fastest growing part of the world’s domestic waste stream.
It also said that data is needed to better track illegal international movements of e-waste from richer to poor regions in the world.
What is the most alarming part is that 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," the report stressed.
In 2016, e-waste was recorded at a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes (mt), up 3.3 mt or 8% from 2014.
The report said that “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".
The report is a collaborative effort of the United Nations University (UNU), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).
As per the report, 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 households.
On a per capita basis, the report shows a rising trend as well. It revealed that the average worldwide per capita e-waste generated was 6.1 kilograms in 2016, up 5% from 5.8 kg in 2014.
The report stressed that falling prices now make electronic and electrical devices affordable for most people worldwide while encouraging early equipment replacement or new acquisitions in wealthier countries.
“Higher disposable incomes in many developing countries is evidenced in sales of electronic and electrical equipment. EEE (electrical and electronic equipment) sales in general showed rapid growth from 2000 to 2016, with the fastest growth recorded in emerging economies with low purchasing power parity (PPP)," it added.
According to the report, the highest per capita e-waste generators (at 17.3 kg 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 collect 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," the report stressed.
Africa generates just 1.9 kg per inhabitant, with little information available on its collection rate, it said.
The report called for stepped up global efforts to better design components in electrical and electronic equipment to facilitate reuse and recycling, greater capture and recycling of old EEE, and better tracking of e-waste and the resource recovery process.
It also noted that more countries are adopting e-waste legislation. Today 66% of the world’s people, living in 67 countries, are covered by national e-waste management laws (up from 44% in 61 countries in 2014), an increase caused mainly by India’s adoption of legislation last year, it said.
Still, only 41 countries quantify their e-waste generation and recycling streams officially and “the fate of a large majority of e-waste (34.1 of 44.7 mt) is simply unknown", the report added.
In March 2016, India notified the E-Waste Management Rules which among other things include a provision for financial penalty for damage caused to ecology and any third party due to improper management of e-waste.
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“The world’s e-waste problem continues to grow. Existing global and regional estimates based on production and trade statistics do not adequately cover the health and environmental risks of unsafe treatment and disposal through incineration or landfilling," said Jakob Rhyner, vice-rector, United Nations University.