This makes e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fueled mainly by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few options for repair.
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.
According to the report, Asia generated the greatest volume of e-waste in 2019 – some 24.9 Mt, followed by the Americas (13.1 Mt) and Europe (12 Mt), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 Mt and 0.7 Mt respectively.
For perspective, last year’s e-waste weighed substantially more than all the adults in Europe, or as much as 350 cruise ships the size of the Queen Mary 2, enough to form a line 125 km long.
E-waste is a health and environmental hazard, containing toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury, which damages the human brain and / or coordination system.
- Proper e-waste management can help mitigate global warming. In 2019, an estimated 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents were released into the atmosphere from discarded fridges and air-conditioners, contributing roughly 0.3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- In per capita terms, last year’s discarded e-waste averaged 7.3 kg for every man, woman and child on Earth.
- Europe ranked first worldwide in terms of e-waste generation per capita with 16.2 kg per capita. Oceania came second (16.1 kg) followed by the Americas (13.3 kg). Asia and Africa were much lower: 5.6 and 2.5 kg respectively.
- E-waste is a health and environmental hazard, containing toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury, which damages the human brain and / or coordination system. An estimated 50 tonnes of mercury — used in monitors, PCBs and fluorescent and energy-saving light sources — are contained in undocumented flows of e-waste annually.
- E-waste in 2019 was mainly comprised of small equipment (17.4 Mt), large equipment (13.1 Mt), and temperature exchange equipment (10.8 Mt). Screens and monitors, lamps, small IT, and telecommunication equipment represented 6.7 Mt, 4.7 Mt, and 0.9 Mt respectively.
- Since 2014, the e-waste categories increasing fastest in total weight terms are: temperature exchange equipment (+7 per cent), large equipment (+5 per cent), lamps and small equipment (+4 per cent). According to the report, this trend is driven by the growing consumption of those products in lower-income countries, where those products improve the living standards. Small IT and telecommunication equipment have been growing more slowly, and screens and monitors have shown a slight decrease (-1 per cent), explained largely by lighter flat panel displays replacing heavy cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors and screens.
- Since 2014, the number of countries that have adopted a national e-waste policy, legislation or regulation has increased from 61 to 78. While a positive trend, this is far from the target set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which is to raise the percentage of countries with an e-waste legislation to 50 per cent.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 is a collaborative product of the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP), formed by UN University (UNU), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). The World Health Organization (WHO) and the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) also contributed to this year’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020.
The GESP helps countries compile useful national policy-making statistics using an internationally-recognized harmonized measurement framework. The GESP convenes policy makers, statisticians, and industry representatives to enhance the quality, and their understanding and interpretation of e-waste data. At the global level, the GESP contributes to the monitoring of relevant waste streams, measuring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals 11.6, 12.4 and 12.5. The GESP allows international organizations, such as the ITU, to measure progress towards their goals. In 2018, the ITU established a target to increase the global e-waste recycling rate to 30 per cent by 2023 – a 12.6 per cent increase from today’s global average.