The amount of global e-waste — discarded electrical and electronic equipment — reached 41.8 million tonnes in 2014, according to a new United Nations University report.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2014: Quantities, Flows and Resources provides an unprecedented level of detail and accuracy about the size of the world’s e-waste challenge, ongoing progress in establishing specialized e-waste collection and treatment systems, and the outlook for the future.
The bulk of global e-waste in 2014 (almost 60%) was discarded kitchen, laundry, and bathroom equipment. Personal information and communication technology (ICT) devices — such as mobile phones, personal computers, and printers — accounted for 7% of e-waste last year.
More specifically, e-waste in 2014 comprised:
- 12.8 million tonnes of small equipment (such as vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, electric shavers and video cameras);
- 11.8 million tonnes of large equipment (including washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves, and photovoltaic panels);
- 7.0 million tonnes of temperature-exchange (cooling and freezing equipment);
- 6.3 million tonnes of screens;
- 3.0 million tonnes of small ICT equipment; and
- 1.0 million tonne of lamps.
This e-waste represented some US$52 billion of potentially reusable resources, yet little of it was collected for recovery, or even treated/disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. Less than one-sixth is thought to have been properly recycled or made available for reuse.
While e-waste constitutes a valuable “urban mine” — a potential reservoir of recyclable materials — it also includes a “toxic mine” of hazardous substances that must be (but too-seldom are) managed with extreme care.
The UNU report estimates that the e-waste discarded in 2014 contained an some 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, and 300 tonnes of gold as well as significant amounts of silver, aluminum, palladium, and other potentially reusable resources, with a combined estimated value of US$52 billion.
It also contained substantial amounts of health-threatening toxins such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, and ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons.
According to the report, just two countries — the US and China — discarded nearly one-third of the world’s total e-waste in 2014.
For more about The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014, including a link to a high-resolution PDF version, see this 19 April UNU press release.