United Nations Concerned about 21% Jump in e-Waste

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The United Nations is concerned that humanity is producing an unsustainable and irresponsible volume of electronic waste after noting a 21% jump in just five years. 

According to the latest Global E-Waste Monitor 2020 from the UN and International Telecommunications Union (ITU), 2019 saw 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste entering landfills. 

That amounts to 7.3kg of e-waste for every person on the planet. 

Authors of the report forecast that e-waste, categorised as any discarded electronic product with a battery or a power plug, will hit 74-megatonnes by 2030; close to double in just 16 years. 

The rise in the rate of E-waste is said to be the direct result of higher levels of disposable income, urbanisation and industrialisation around the globe. 

According to the report, “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.” 

Asia was the worst geographic culprit, responsible for producing 24.9 megatonnes of e-waste, while the Americas (13.1-megatonnes), Europe (12-megatonnes), Africa (2.9-megatonnes) and Oceania (0.7-megatonnes) rounded out the top five. 

Graphic taken from the E-Waste Monitor, 2020

Other key findings of the report include the fact that effective E-waste management can help mitigate global warming. Authors state that in 2019, 98-million tonnes of greenhouse gasses were released into the atmosphere from discarded e-Waste like fridges and air conditioners. 

The report also signalled the importance of cleaning up toxic substances like mercury – 50 tonnes of which were found in e-Waste, which is known to have a negative impact on the brain. 

The breakdown of this e-Waste goes as follows. 17.4-megatonnes of small equipment, 13.1-megatonnes of large equipment, 10.8-megatonnes of temperature exchange equipment. 

Screens and monitors, small IT and telecommunication equipment and lamps accounted for 6.7, 4.7 and 0.9-megatonnes respectively. 

The report found that 2019’s total e-waste was the equivalent weight of all the adults in Europe, or 350 Queen Mary 2 cruise ships, and would measure 125km in length if laid out. 

David M. Malone, UN Under Secretary-General has said that “the findings of this year’s Global E-waste monitor suggest that humanity is not sufficiently implementing the SDGs,” in reference to the UN’s sustainable development goals. 

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“Substantially greater efforts are urgently required to ensure smarter and more sustainable global production, consumption, and disposal of electrical and electronic equipment. This report contributes mightily to the sense of urgency in turning around this dangerous global pattern,” he said. 

Antonis Mavropoulos, President of the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) has said that “E-waste quantities are rising 3 times faster than the world’s population and 13 per cent faster than the world’s GDP during the last five years.” 

“This sharp rise creates substantial environmental and health pressures and demonstrates the urgency to combine the fourth industrial revolution with [a] circular economy. The fourth industrial revolution either will advance a new circular economy approach for our economies or it will stimulate further resource depletion and new pollution waves,” he said.

Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the World Health Organisation, Maria Neira added that “informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations.”  

“One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures,” she added. “One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment. WHO is pleased to join forces in this new Global E-waste Monitor to allow evidence, information about health impacts and join solutions and policies to be made available to protect our future generations’ health,” she concluded. 

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