Report: Global e-Waste Surged by 21% in Five Years

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By Emma Okonji

A record 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (e-Waste) was generated worldwide in 2019, up 21 per cent in just five years, according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020, that was released recently.

The new report also predicted that global e-waste, which includes discarded electronic products with a battery or plug, to reach 74 million metric tonnes by 2030, almost a doubling of e-waste in just 16 years.

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.

In Nigeria, industry stakeholders had raised the alarm about the increasing number of dump sites that are mainly occupied by electronic wastes in most cities of the country.

According to the report, only 17.4 per cent of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled, which means that gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at US $57 billion, which is a sum greater than the gross domestic product of most countries, were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse.

The report stated that Asia generated the greatest volume of e-waste in 2019, about 24.9 metric tonnes, followed by the Americas 13.1 metric tonnes and Europe 12 metric tonnes, while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 metric tonnes and 0.7 metric tonnes respectively.

“For perspective, last year’s e-waste weighed substantially more than all the adults in Europe, or as much as 350 cruise ships to form a line 125 km long,” the report noted.

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.

According to the report findings, proper e-waste management could help mitigate global warming.

In 2019, an estimated 98 metric tonnes of Carbon dioxide (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.

The report noted that Europe ranked first worldwide in terms of e-waste generation per capita with 16.2 kg per capita. Oceania came second with 16.1 kg, followed by the Americas 13.3 kg. Asia and Africa were much lower: 5.6 and 2.5 kg respectively.

Since 2014, the e-waste categories increasing fastest in total weight terms are: temperature exchange equipment at over seven per cent; large equipment at over five per cent; and lamps and small equipment at over four 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 of less than one 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 regarded as a positive trend, the figures are far from the target set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is mandated to raise the percentage of countries with an e-waste legislation to 50 per cent.

Commenting on the global e-waste surge, Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Doreen Bogdan-Martin, said: “The Global E-waste Monitor highlights the pressing issue of e-waste management in today’s digitally connected world in that the way we produce, consume, and dispose of electronic devices has become unsustainable.”

Rector United Nations University (UNU) and UN Under Secretary General, David Malone, added: “The findings of this year’s UNU-affiliated Global E-waste Monitor suggest that humanity is not sufficiently implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Executive Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Nikhil Seth, said: “Far more electronic waste is generated than is being safely recycled in most parts of the world. More cooperative efforts are required to make aware of this increasing issue and take appropriate countermeasures supplement by appropriate research and training.”