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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.
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Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.
The Navajo Nation have decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.
A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.
A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.
For a deeper dive:
By Jeff Turrentine
Is it just us?
Other countries don't seem to have a problem getting their high-speed rail systems on track. This superfast, fuel-efficient form of mass transit is wildly popular throughout Asia and the European Union. Japan's sleek Shinkansen line, the busiest high-speed rail system in the world, carries an estimated 420,000 riders every weekday. In China, the new Fuxing Hao bullet train now hurries more than 100 million passengers a year between Beijing and Shanghai at a top speed of 218 miles an hour, allowing its riders to make the trip of 775 miles — roughly the distance from New York City to Chicago — in about four and a half hours. Spain, Germany and France together have more than 4,500 miles of track dedicated to high-speed rail, over which more than 150 million passengers travel annually.
By Coda Christopherson (11) and Lea Eiders (15)
Growing up in a plastic-free home, I was sheltered from the plastic waste crisis. I (Coda) went to a very progressive school that had vegan lunch items, farm animals and ran on solar power. My mom produces zero-waste events and my dad is a sailor, so we're very passionate about the ocean. When I was nine years old, we moved back to Manhattan Beach, California and I started 3rd grade in a public school. This was the first time I really understood that plastic-free living is not the norm; single-use plastics were everywhere, especially in the cafeteria. Once I recognized this problem, I knew I had to make a difference.
Henry Avocado issued the recall Saturday after a routine government inspection at its California packing facility turned up positive test results for the bacteria on "environmental samples," the company said in a statement. No illnesses have been reported.
Oil executives gathered for a conference laughed about their "unprecedented" access to Trump administration officials, according to a recording obtained by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
In the recording, taken at a June 2017 meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) at a Ritz-Carlton in Southern California, members expressed excitement about one official in particular: David Bernhardt, who had been nominated that April to be deputy secretary at the Department of Interior (DOI). Bernhardt would be confirmed the following month.
"We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues," IPAA political director Dan Naatz said in the recording.