Less than 1/6 of Global E-Waste Recycled or Reused


by | Apr 22, 2015

e-wasteLess than one-sixth of last year’s e-waste is thought to have been diverted to proper recycling and reuse, according to the United Nations University, the UN’s think tank, which says global e-waste topped 41.8 million metric tons of electrical and electronic products in 2014.

According to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2014, while the US and China produce the most e-waste overall (32 percent of the world’s total), the top per capita producers are the wealthy nations of northern and western Europe, the top five being Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark and the UK.

Just 7 percent of e-waste last year was made up of mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, printers and small information technology equipment.

Almost 60 percent was a mix of large and small equipment used in homes and businesses, consisting of:

  • 12.8 megatonnes (Mt) of small equipment (vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, electric shavers, video cameras, etc.);
  • 11.8 Mt of large equipment (washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves, photovoltaic panels, etc.);
  • 7.0 Mt of cooling and freezing equipment (temperature exchange equipment);
  • 6.3 Mt of screens;
  • 3 Mt of small IT (mobile phones, pocket calculators, personal computers, printers, etc.); and
  • 1 Mt of lamps

The e-waste generated in 2014 contained an estimated 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, 300 metric tons of gold, as well as silver, aluminum, palladium plastic and other resources with a combined estimated value of $52 billion.

Toxins in that e-waste, meanwhile, include 2.2 Mt of lead glass, 0.3 Mt of batteries, as well as mercury, cadmium, chromium and 4,400 metric tons of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon.

The UNU expects the volume of e-waste to rise by 21 percent to 50 million Mt in 2018.

The report says the escalating global e-waste problem is driven by the rising sales and shortening life cycles of electrical and electronic equipment.

The global e-waste management market is expected to reach $49.4 billion by 2020, a CAGR of 23.5% from 2014, according to a report from Allied Market Research published earlier this year. Much of the reason for expansion in the market is the ever-growing need for the newest technology, the report states.

Photo Credit: e-waste via Shutterstock

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