Quantcast
Popular
Cap Sciences / Flickr

Electronic Waste Study Finds $65 Billion in Raw Materials Discarded in Just One Year

The amount of electronic waste around the world grew to a record 45 million tons in 2016, according to a United Nations-backed study released on Wednesday.

To put that in perspective, the weight of last year's e-waste was equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers, according to the study by the UN university, the International Telecommunication Union and the International Solid Waste Association. The amount of e-waste—defined as anything with a plug or a battery—rose by eight percent since 2014, the time of the last assessment.


The study also found that raw materials thrown out as e-waste—metals such as gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium— were worth $64.61 billion in 2016. But despite this economic incentive, only 8.9 million tons of e-waste were recovered.

"Only 20 percent [of e-waste] is going in the official collection and recycling schemes," Ruediger Kuehr, head of the UN University's Sustainable Cycles Programme, told Reuters. He noted that the amount of e-waste is more shocking considering that 67 countries, covering two-thirds of the world's population, has legislation for processing e-waste.

In 2016, the worldwide e-waste average was 13.5 pounds per person, or 54 pounds for a family of four. But in the U.S. or Canada the figure was 3.3 times higher. And the global trend is surging. By 2021 there will be a 17 percent increase, making e-waste the fastest growing part of the world's domestic waste stream, according to the study. Put simply, the study found that rising incomes and falling prices on electronic goods was driving the rising amount of e-waste.

Although countries widely vary in recycling capacity, nowhere in the world is equipped to deal with increasing e-waste—there isn't a country that come closes to recycling even half. Europe, at 35 percent, has the highest collection rate, while Australia and New Zealand, two countries that produce the highest e-waste per person at 38 pounds, collect and formally recycle only six percent of their electronics.

The U.S.—where 30 percent of e-waste gets landfilled, exported or recycled informally—hasn't ratified the Basel Convention, which bans the transport of e-waste due to its association with heavy metals like lead and mercury. But this problem isn't limited to the U.S.

European and North American countries, despite being signatories to the Basel Convention, often ship e-waste to poor countries as "electronics for reuse" or hidden with legitimate cargo. Though the health consequences of e-waste exposure have been poorly studied, experts suspect that contamination may carry severe risks.

The study's authors noted that ultimately the business model of electronics needs to shift from one that produces replaceable electronics to one that makes electronics easier to repair and recycle.

"Consumers are only interested in price and performance. That needs to change," Vanessa Gray, one of the study's authors, told National Geographic.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Health
Sonsam / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Congress Poised to Act to Reduce Major Source of PFAS Chemicals in Drinking Water

House and Senate leaders included a provision in legislation to fund the Federal Aviation Administration and strengthen disaster programs that will give commercial airports the option to switch to firefighting foams that do not include the highly toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Pexels

Glyphosate Could Be Factor in Bee Decline, Study Warns

Another study has cast doubt on the environmental safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, the most frequently used weedkiller in the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Jim Peaco / National Park Service

Yellowstone Area Grizzlies Regain Endangered Species Protection

A federal judge restored endangered species protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park on Monday, The Huffington Post reported, putting a permanent halt to plans by Wyoming and Idaho to launch the first Yellowstone-area grizzly hunt in four decades.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
An activist adjusts his hat while protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline during the Native Nations Rise protest on March 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. The KXL has been at the center of a contentious fight for a decade. Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

KXL Pipeline Developer Plans to Start Construction in 2019

Construction on the long-delayed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline is planned for 2019, developer TransCanada said Monday.

"Keystone XL has undergone years of extensive environmental review by federal and state regulators," TransCanada spokesman Matthew John told Omaha World-Herald. "All of these evaluations show that Keystone XL can be built safely and with minimal impact to the environment."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Artist Ricky Lee Gordon paints his mural, Wings of Paradise, on a building in Long Beach, California. David McNew / Ricky Lee Gordo / Greenpeace

Wings of Paradise: Drawing Attention to Rainforest Destruction

By Alexander Navarro

For too long the story of Indonesian forests has been painted with the darkness of burning rainforests, disappearing species and displaced communities. Greedy palm oil companies, that only seem to be driven by the bottom line whatever the cost to humanity or biodiversity, have played a major role in this.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
The ICESat-2 will point lasers at Earth's ice sheets. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

NASA's New Space Laser to Measure Earth's Changing Ice

NASA will soon activate the "most advanced laser instrument of its kind" to study Earth's changing polar ice.

The incredibly precise Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) is the main feature of the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) that successfully launched into space from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Sept. 15.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
The Atlantic wolffish is already at risk from oxygen depletion. Nilfanion, via Wikimedia Commons

Oxygen Loss in Canada Linked to Climate Change

By Tim Radford

Oceanographers have identified an act of slow suffocation, as oxygen loss grows near one of the world's richest fishing grounds, and are linking the change to human-triggered global warming.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
A Co-op grocery store location in Shoreditch, London. The Co-op Group / CC BY 2.0

Supermarket Becomes First in UK to Replace Single-Use Plastic Bags With Compostable Alternative

Since 2015, all large stores in England have been required by law to charge five pence for single-use plastic bags in an attempt to reduce plastic pollution.

Now, major UK supermarket chain the Co-op is taking that one step further by phasing out plastic bags entirely and replacing them with compostable alternatives, becoming the first supermarket in the UK to do so, The Guardian reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!