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:
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.