The volume of “e-waste” – defined as all discarded items with a battery or plug, from TVs, refrigerators and air conditioners to computers, old lamps and coffee makers – is rising dramatically, climbing more than 20% worldwide in just the past five years, according to a new United Nations report. The sheer weight of global e-waste reached a record 53.6 million metric tons in 2019, making it the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream.
The report also predicts that global e-waste will reach 74 metric tons by 2030, with the rapid increase driven mainly by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few options for repair.
Only about 17% of the e-waste generated last year was collected and recycled, the report stated. It estimated the value of recoverable materials from the dumped items, which includes gold, silver, copper, platinum and others, at $57 billion. In addition to its sheer volume, e-waste is a health and environmental hazard, often containing toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury.
According to the report, Asia generated the greatest volume of e-waste in 2019, followed by North and South America and Europe. On a per-capita basis, last year’s discarded e-waste represents just over 16 pounds for every man, woman and child on Earth.