The UN reports that electronic waste increases five times faster than recycling

The global generation of electronic waste is increasing five times faster than the documented recycling of this type of potentially polluting waste, according to the fourth edition of the report Global E-waste Monitor (Global E-waste Monitor) published by the United Nations.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
02 April 2024 Tuesday 23:20
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The UN reports that electronic waste increases five times faster than recycling

The global generation of electronic waste is increasing five times faster than the documented recycling of this type of potentially polluting waste, according to the fourth edition of the report Global E-waste Monitor (Global E-waste Monitor) published by the United Nations. through the United Nations Institute for Vocational Training and Research (Unitar) and the International Telecommunications Union, with the collaboration of the Carmignac Foundation.

The 62 million tons of electronic waste generated in 2022 would fill 1.55 million 40-ton trucks, approximately enough trucks to form a bumper-to-bumper line surrounding the equator, as graphically highlighted by those responsible for this report sponsored by the ONU.

Meanwhile, the authors have documented that less than a quarter (22.3%) of the mass of e-waste was properly collected and recycled in 2022, leaving $62 billion worth of recoverable natural resources unaccounted for and increasing. pollution risks in the world.

Annual global e-waste generation is increasing by 2.6 million tonnes a year, and is on track to reach 82 million tonnes by 2030, a further 33% increase over the 2022 figure, the report says. new report on E-waste.

The new report includes Eurostat data (2022) referring to Spain, which indicates a total annual generation of 935 million kg, equivalent to 19.6 kg/inhabitant; while the official annual collection and recycling data is 395.2 million kg.

"E-waste, any product discarded with a plug or battery, is a health and environmental hazard as it contains toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury, which can damage the human brain and coordination system" , highlights Unitar.

The new E-waste Monitor report predicts a drop in the documented collection and recycling rate from 22.3% in 2022 to 20% in 2030 due to the widening gap in recycling efforts relative to the staggering growth of the generation of electronic waste around the world.

Challenges contributing to this widening gap include technological progress, increased consumption, limited repair options, shorter product life cycles, increasing electrification of society, design deficiencies, and inadequate quality management infrastructure. electronic waste.

The report highlights that if countries could raise e-waste collection and recycling rates to 60% by 2030, the benefits – even minimizing risks to human health – would outweigh the costs by more than $38 billion.

Furthermore, it says the world “remains surprisingly dependent” on a few countries for rare earth elements, despite their unique and crucial properties for future technologies, including renewable energy generation and electric mobility.

* 62 million tonnes: electronic waste generated in 2022, equivalent to the weight of 107,000 of the largest (853 seats) and heaviest (575 tonnes) passenger planes in the world: enough to form an uninterrupted queue from New York to Athens.

* 14 million tons (22.3%): estimated mass of discarded e-waste, mostly landfilled, in 2022

* 31 million tons: estimated weight of metals embedded in e-waste in 2022, along with 17 million tons of plastics and 14 million tons of other materials (minerals, glass, composite materials, etc.)

* $91 billion: The value of metals embodied in 2022 e-waste, including $19 billion in copper, $15 billion in gold and $16 billion in iron.

* $28 billion: value of secondary raw materials (mainly iron) recovered by “urban mining” of e-waste in 2022

* 900 million tonnes: primary mineral extraction avoided by recovering materials through documented recycling of electronic waste.

* 93 million tonnes: CO₂ equivalent emissions avoided through formal e-waste management: refrigerants recovered (41 million tonnes), metal mining avoided (52 million tonnes).

* 42.8%: Formally documented collection and recycling rates in Europe

* Approximately 50% (30 million tonnes): e-waste generated by Asian countries (of which relatively few have enacted legislation or set clear e-waste collection targets)

* 17.6 kg: Generation of electronic waste per capita in Europe, followed by Oceania (16.1 kg) and America (14.1 kg). These regions also have the highest documented per capita collection and recycling rates (7.5 kg in Europe, 6.7 kg in Oceania, and 4.2 kg in the Americas).

* 16 million tonnes: e-waste collected and recycled outside of formal systems in high- and upper-middle-income countries that have developed e-waste management infrastructure.

* 18 million tonnes: e-waste managed primarily by the informal sector in low- and lower-middle-income countries without e-waste management infrastructure. Any material value recovered by the informal sector is largely (perhaps more than) offset by extremely high environmental and health costs.

* 5.1 million tonnes (8.2% of global total): e-waste shipped across borders in 2022, of which approximately 3.3 million tonnes (65%) were shipped from high-income countries to countries of middle and low income through uncontrolled and undocumented movements in other countries.

* 33% (20.4 million tons): Proportion of e-waste made up of small devices (e.g. toys, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, e-cigarettes), of which 12% is recycled.

* 4.6 million tonnes: e-waste in the category of small IT and telecommunications equipment (e.g. laptops, mobile phones, GPS devices, routers), with a documented collection and recycling rate of only 22%.

* 2.4 million tons: Expected mass of photovoltaic panels retired in 2030, four times more than the 600,000 tons in 2022.