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How much electronic waste do we generate as a species?

Updated Thursday 11th January 2018

Old computers, knackered telly sets and phones that are so last year: How much of this discarded stuff is piling up?

Abandoned TV set Creative commons image Icon sinkdd under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license

Humans generated a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) in 2016 — the equivalent of 4,500 Eiffel Towers, and five per cent more than the electrical and electronic goods discarded just two years earlier, says a new study. 

The trend is set to continue, with volumes of e-waste expected to rise to 52.2 million metric tonnes by 2021. 

A report on the study — carried out by the International Telecommunication Union, the UN University (UNU) and the International Solid Waste Association — published in The Global E-waste Monitor 2017, lays blame on falling prices that make electronic devices affordable and widely available. 

In developing countries, a growing middle class with disposable incomes means that more electronic goods are being bought and replaced more frequently, according to the study. Asia, with its growing economies, accounts for more than 40 per cent of the e-waste generated globally.

Countries in Oceania, which include Australia and New Zealand, generated 17.3 kilograms of e-waste per person in 2016, the highest volume among the regional groupings. By contrast, African countries generated only 1.9 kg of e-waste per person. 

Asians generated a per capita average of 4.2 kg of e-waste in 2016. However, volumes varied greatly between sub-regions: while the inhabitants of Brunei, China, Hong Kong and Singapore produced, on average, more than 18 kilograms of e-waste per person, those of Afghanistan or Nepal hardly produced any. 

There is little information on the fate of discarded equipment and, according to the study, only 20 per cent of e-waste is “documented to be collected and properly recycled”. 

This article originally appeared in SciDevNet under a CC-BY licence

 

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