In 2019 the amount of electronic waste generated reached record figures with 59 million tons, representing an increase of 21% in just five years.
Already in early 2018, the United Nations warned of the growing volume of electronic waste and reinforced the threat it posed to the environment and public health. “Environmental protection is one of the three pillars of sustainable development (…). The management of electronic waste is an urgent issue in today’s digitally dependent world, where the use of electronic devices is increasing,” said Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
If the report presented in 2018 drew a pessimistic scenario, with a growth forecast for 2021 of 17% and 52.2 million tonnes of waste, in 2020 we see that the scenario is worse than calculated, with growth exceeding 21% in 2019.
The Global Electronic Waste Monitor also predicts that the amount of waste will reach 81.5 million tons in 2030, which is double what it was in 2014. This makes it the fastest growing household waste, a result of the growing consumption of electrical and electronic equipment that has a shorter lifespan and is not easy to repair.
Of the waste produced in 2019 only 17.4% was collected for recycling, meaning that at least EUR 50.6 billion in valuable materials such as platinum, copper or gold were burned or went to landfills, which is more than the GDP of many countries in the world.
Most of the waste produced in 2019 came from Asia (26.4 million tonnes), with the American continent appearing second (14.3 million tonnes) and Europe appearing third with 13.2 million tonnes. Africa generated 2.2 million tons and Oceania 771,000 tons. However, although Europe is in third place, this is where more electronic waste is generated per capita: 16.2 kilos per person.
Most of the 2019 waste consists of small equipment (18.7 million tonnes), large equipment (14.3 million), air-conditioning or refrigeration equipment (11 million), screens and monitors (6.6 million), small IT equipment (4.4 million) and telecommunications equipment (992 thousand tonnes).
To better understand the amount of electronic waste produced in 2019, the weight of this waste is higher than that of all adults in Europe, equal to 350 cruise ships. And we must not forget that in this type of waste there is hazardous waste, with mercury or toxic additives that are harmful to the brain. It also contributes to global warming. According to the Monitor, in 2019 alone, refrigerators and air conditioners released 108 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, about 0.3%.
According to Maria Neira, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Climate Change and Health, the problem with electronic waste is that it is “a large and silent emerging health risk for current and future generations,” adding that “one in four children in the world dies because of exposure to avoidable environmental risks.
David Malone, rector of the United Nations University and undersecretary general of the organization, said that “substantially greater efforts are needed to ensure smarter production, consumption and recycling of electrical and electronic equipment.