In 2014, people worldwide discarded 41.8 million metric tonnes (megatonnes – Mt) of electrical and electronic products, compared to 39.8 million metric tonnes in 2013, according to a report compiled by the United Nations University (UNU). And the volume of e-waste is expected to rise by 21% to 50 million Mt in 2018.
Just 7% of e-waste last year was made up of mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, printers, and small information technology equipment.
Almost 60% was a mix of large and small equipment used in homes and businesses, consisting of:
- 12.8 Mt of small equipment (vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, electric shavers, video cameras, etc.);
- 11.8 Mt of large equipment (washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves, photovoltaic panels, etc.);
- 7.0 Mt of cooling and freezing equipment (temperature exchange equipment);
- 6.3 Mt of screens;
- 3.0 Mt of small IT (mobile phones, pocket calculators, personal computers, printers, etc.); and
- 1.0 Mt of lamps
The 41.8 Mt weight of last year’s e-waste is comparable to that of 1.15 million 40-ton 18-wheel trucks — enough to form a line of trucks 23,000 kilometres long, or the distance from New York to Tokyo and back.
Less than one-sixth of last year’s e-waste is thought to have been diverted to proper recycling and reuse.
The e-waste generated in 2014 contained an estimated 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, 300 tonnes of gold (equal to 11% of the world’s total 2013 gold production), as well as silver, aluminum, palladium plastic and other resources with a combined estimated value of US$52 billion (48 billion Euro).
Toxins in that e-waste, meanwhile, include 2.2 Mt of lead glass — more than six times the weight of the Empire State Building — 0.3 Mt of batteries, as well as mercury, cadmium, chromium and 4,400 tonnes of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs). Health problems associated with such toxins include impaired mental development, cancer, and damage to liver and kidneys.
And while the US and China produce the most e-waste overall (32% of the world’s total), the top per capita producers by far are the wealthy nations of northern and western Europe, the top five being Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and the UK.
- In 2014, approximately 4 billion people were covered by national e-waste legislation (though not all laws cover the full range of e-waste and are not all enforced);
- Around 6.5 Mt of e-waste was reported as formally treated by national take-back systems;
- Most world e-waste in 2014 was generated in Asia: 16 Mt (3.7 kg per inhabitant);
- The highest per inhabitant e-waste quantity (15.6 kg/inh.) was generated in Europe; the region (including Russia) generated 11.6 Mt;
- The lowest quantity of e-waste was generated in Oceania (0.6 Mt), however, per inhabitant the e-waste generated was nearly as high as Europe’s (15.2 kg/inh.);
- The lowest amount of e-waste per inhabitant was generated in Africa (1.7 kg/inh). The continent generated 1.9 Mt of e-waste in total;
- The Americas generated 11.7 Mt of e-waste (7.9 Mt in North America, 1.1 Mt in Central America, 2.7 Mt in South America), or an average of 12.2 kg/inh;