Discarded Kitchen, Laundry, Bathroom Equipment Comprises Over Half of World E-waste: UNU Report

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  • 2015•04•20     Bonn

    End-of-life electronic, electrical equipment totals 41.8 million metric tonnes in 2014

    E-waste last year contained $52 billion in resources, large volumes of toxic material; most is not collected for recovery or treatment

    New report details e-waste generation by region

    In 2014, people worldwide discarded all but a small fraction of an estimated 41.8 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electrical and electronic products — mostly end-of-life kitchen, laundry and bathroom equipment like microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers.

    And the volume of e-waste is expected to rise by 21% to 50 million Mt in 2018.

    The new figures were released today in the Global E-Waste Monitor 2014, compiled by  the United Nations University (UNU), the UN’s think tank.  The report offers in unprecedented detail a wealth of insights into the location and composition of the world’s fast-growing e-waste problem.

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

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

    • 12.8 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;
    • 3.0 Mt of small IT (mobile phones, pocket calculators, personal computers, printers, etc.);
    • 1.0 Mt of lamps.

    The 41.8 million Mt weight of last year’s e-waste is comparable to that of 1.15 million 40-ton 18-wheel trucks, enough to form a line of trucks 23,000 kilometers long, or the distance from New York to Tokyo and back.

    Less than one-sixth of last year’s e-waste is thought to have been diverted from landfills to recycling and reuse.

    The e-waste generated in 2014 contained an estimated 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, 300 tonnes of gold (equal to 11% of the world’s total 2013 gold production), as well as silver, aluminum, palladium plastic and other resources with a combined estimated value of US $52 billion (48 billion Euro).

    Toxins in that e-waste, meanwhile, include 2.2 Mt of lead glass — more than six times the weight of the Empire State Building — 0.3 Mt of batteries, as well as mercury, cadmium, chromium and 4,400 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances (CFCs).   Health problems associated with such toxins include impaired mental development, cancer, and damage to livers and kidneys.

    And while the USA and China produce the most e-waste overall (32% of the world’s total), the top per capita producers by far are the wealthy nations of northern and western Europe, the top five being Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and the UK.