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E-waste far outstripping its recycling, warns report


 , Updated 02:00, 22-Mar-2024

We're generating electronic waste five times faster than we're recycling it. That's the shocking finding of the UN's fourth Global E-waste Monitor (GEM) report.

According to the report, we generated 62 million tons of e-waste in 2022. This would fill more than 1.5 million 40-ton trucks, enough to form a ring of lorries encircling the equator. 

According to the report from the UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and its Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), just 22.3 percent of the year's e-waste mass was documented as having been properly collected and recycled. 

This leaves $62 billion worth of recoverable natural resources unaccounted for, increasing pollution risks to communities worldwide.

A landfill sitein Banda Aceh, Indonesia. /Chaideer Mahyuddin/CFP
A landfill sitein Banda Aceh, Indonesia. /Chaideer Mahyuddin/CFP

A landfill sitein Banda Aceh, Indonesia. /Chaideer Mahyuddin/CFP

E-waste is defined as any discarded product with a plug or battery, which forms a health and environmental hazard, and contains toxic additives or hazardous substances that can damage the human brain and coordination system.

The report foresees a fall in the collection and recycling rate from to 20 percent by 2030 due to "the widening difference in recycling efforts relative to the staggering growth of e-waste generation worldwide."

To make matters worse, the report's authors say the annual generation of e-waste is rising by 2.6 million tons annually and will reach 82 million tons by 2030, a rise of a third from 2022. 

Cosmas Luckyson Zavazava, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, explained: "From discarded televisions to dumped telephones, an enormous amount of e-waste is generated around the world… With less than half of the world implementing and enforcing approaches to manage the problem, this raises the alarm for sound regulations to boost collection and recycling."


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Report authors say that challenges contributing to the widening gap between e-waste production and its recycling include technological progress, higher consumption, limited repair options, shorter product life cycles, society's growing electronification, design shortcomings, and inadequate e-waste management infrastructure.

The report underlines that if countries could almost triple the e-waste collection and recycling rates to 60 percent within six years, the benefits - including through minimizing human health risks - would exceed costs by more than $38 billion.

It also notes that the world "remains stunningly dependent" on a few countries for rare earth elements, despite their unique properties crucial for future technologies, including renewable energy generation and e-mobility.

Lead author Kees Baldé, of UNITAR, cautioned: ‌"No more than one percent of demand for essential rare earth elements is met by e-waste recycling. Simply put - business as usual can't continue. This new report represents an immediate call for greater investment in infrastructure development, more promotion of repair and reuse, capacity building, and measures to stop illegal e-waste shipments. And the investment would pay for itself in spades."

E-waste far outstripping its recycling, warns report

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Cover image:/Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

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