The volume of global e-waste — discarded electrical and electronic equipment — reached 41.8 million tonnes in 2014, an all time high, according to a new United Nations University report.
What's worse is that the bulk of the expensive to dispose of waste ends up in developing countries where environmental regulations are lax and labor is cheap. The resulting environmental and health effects are devastating and lead to lasting health issues for workers involved in the disposal process.
The Global E-waste Monitor 2014: Quantities, Flows and Resources goes into an unprecedented level of detail and accuracy about the size of the world’s e-waste problem, what progress is being made in establishing special e-waste collection and treatment systems, and the outlook going forward.
Of the world's e-waste in 2014 nearly 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 only 7% of e-waste last year.
E-waste in 2014
This waste actually represents some US$52 billion of potentially reusable resources, yet virtually none of it was collected for recovery or even treated 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.
It contains substantial amounts of toxins such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, and ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons.
The report found that just two countries — the U.S. and China — discarded nearly one-third of the world’s total e-waste in 2014.
It usually ends up at landfills, such as those shown below.