Electronic waste has reached a new record level worldwide last year, according to a United Nations study. A total of 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste were produced in 2019. This corresponds to an increase of 9.2 million tons in five years.
The United Nations defines electronic waste as any device that has a battery or power connector and contains dangerous or toxic materials, such as mercury, that can be hazardous to people or the environment.
The study also differentiates between different types of electronic waste. In 2019, 17.4 million tons were allotted to small appliances, 13 million to large appliances and almost 11 million tons to cooling and heating devices of all kinds. Screens and monitors were responsible for another 6.7 million tons. Disposed telecommunications equipment reached 4.7 million tons last year. Illuminants weighing 0.9 million tons were also disposed of.
Regionally, most electronic waste was generated in Asia: a total of 25 million tons. 13 million tons were collected in North and South America, and a further 12 million tons in Europe. Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 and 0.7 million tons respectively.
In contrast, per capita Europe and Oceania were leading with slightly more than 16 kg each. Users in North and South America disposed of an average of 13 kg of electronic waste per person. At the bottom of the scale were Asia with 5.6 kg per person and Africa with 2.5 kg per person.
According to the study, a major problem is that only 17.4 percent of the electronic waste generated last year was also recycled. The UN estimates that as a result gold, silver, copper and other valuable materials worth $ 57 billion have been disposed of or incinerated, rather than recycled.
Although the number of countries with an electronic waste directive has increased from 61 to 78 in the past five years, UN Under-Secretary-General David Malone criticized that “humanity had defined too few environmental protection goals”. “Much greater efforts are urgently needed to ensure smarter and more sustainable production, consumption and disposal of electrical and electronic devices worldwide. This report makes a major contribution to underlining the urgency to reverse this dangerous global pattern
The United Nations anticipate that 74 million tons of electronic waste will be generated by 2030. Above all, shorter service lives and limited repair options should contribute to this.