Electronic waste: A growing, valuable but underutilised resource

The speed of technological progress and a consumption model based on “use and throw” has overwhelmed our capacity to assimilate the electronic waste we produce. This is the conclusion of the latest UN Global E-waste Monitor report, which, like the previous report, again emphasises that e-waste is a growing, valuable but underutilised resource. Therefore, management of this waste will determine whether it plays a leading role in an environmental crisis or whether it becomes the driver of a radical turnaround in our current system of production and consumption.

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According to the United Nations, 53.6 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was generated worldwide in 2019. This is the equivalent of 7.3 kg per capita, 21% higher than in 2014, a new all-time high. The figure is estimated to reach 74 million tonnes by 2030, almost double the quantity of five years ago. By region, Asia produces the most e-waste (24.9 million tonnes) but Europe is the continent with the highest figure per capita (16.2 kg).

In 2019, just 17.4% of e-waste worldwide was collected and recycled properly, meaning that 44.3 million tonnes of WEEE was landfilled, incinerated or illegally traded and inadequately treated. Europe is the continent with the highest e-waste recycling rate, 42.5% of WEEE produced in 2019. The figure is significantly lower in other continents. Asia has a recycling rate of 11.7%, America and Oceania have rates of 9.4% and 8.8% respectively, while Africa has the lowest rate, just 0.9%.

And this occurs despite the fact that, according to the latest available data, 71% of the world population lives in countries where e-waste is governed by specific legislation, compared to 44% in 2014. However, this percentage of the population lives in just 78 of the 193 countries on the planet, including China and India, two of the world’s most populated countries. The conclusion is that less than half of the countries on our fragile planet have specific legislation in this area.

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José Pérez, CEO at Recyclia

Published in: FuturENVIRO Nº 72 July-September 2020