A new assessment on global electronic waste, policies and statistics, The Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, is being released today by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technology – together the United Nations University (UNU) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).
The report seeks to increase global awareness and draw attention to the growing world issue of hardware waste, which includes discarded products with a battery or plug including mobile phones, laptops, televisions, refrigerators and electrical toys.
The assessment shows that in 2016, 44.7 million metric tonnes were generated, up 3.3 metric tonnes (8 percent) from 2014. In 2016, only about 20 percent – or 8.9 million metric tonnes – of all e-waste was recycled. Experts foresee a further 17 percent increase — to 52.2 million metric tonnes by 2021.
The assessment also highlights the significant and growing risk to the environment and human health due to increasing levels of waste and its improper and unsafe treatment and disposal through burning or in dumpsites.
The assessment also notes positive news – that there is now a growing number of countries adopting legislation around the issue.
Currently 66 percent of the world population, living in 67 countries, is covered by national e-waste management laws, a significant increase from 44 percent in 2014.
National e-waste policies and legislation play an important role as they set standards, guidelines and obligations to govern the actions of stakeholders who are associated with e-waste.
“Environmental protection is one of the three pillars of sustainable development and ITU is at the forefront of advocating the safe disposal of waste generated by information and communication technologies,” said ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao. “E-waste management is an urgent issue in today’s digitally dependent world, where use of electronic devices is ever increasing – and is included in ITU’s Connect 2020 Agenda targets. The Monitor serves as a valuable resource for governments developing their necessary management strategies, standards and policies to reduce the adverse health and environmental effects of e-waste – and will help ITU members to realize this Connect 2020 target.”
“With 53.6 per cent of global households now having Internet access, information and communications technologies are improving peoples’ lives and empowering them to enhance their social and economic well-being,” said Brahima Sanou, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau. “The Monitor represents an important step in identifying solutions for e-waste. Better e-waste data will help evaluate developments over time, set and assess targets, and contribute to developing national policies. National policies will help minimise e-waste production, prevent illegal dumping and improper treatment of e-waste, promote recycling, and create jobs in the refurbishment and recycling sector.”
The assessment also reports that low recycling rates can have a negative economic impact, as e-waste contains rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium and other high value recoverable materials. It estimates that the value of recoverable materials contained in e-waste generated during 2016 was $55 billion, which is more than the gross domestic product of most countries in the world.
“The world’s waste problem continues to grow,” said Jakob Rhyner, vice-rector of the United Nations University. “Improved measurement of e-waste is essential to set and monitor targets, and identify policies. National data should be internationally comparable, frequently updated, published and interpreted. Existing global and regional estimates based on production and trade statistics do not adequately cover the health and environmental risks of unsafe treatment and disposal through incineration or landfilling.”
“We live in a time of transition to a more digital world, where automation, sensors and artificial intelligence are transforming industry and society,” said Antonis Mavropoulos, president of the International Solid Waste association (ISWA). “E-waste is the most emblematic by-product of this transition and finding the proper solutions for e-waste management is a measure of our ability to utilise the technological advances to stimulate a sustainable future and to make the circular economy a reality. We need to be able to measure and collect data and statistics on e-waste, locally and globally, in a uniform way. This report represents a significant effort in the right direction and ISWA will continue to support it as a very important first step towards the global response required.”
Earlier this year ITU, UNU and ISWA joined forces and launched the “Global Partnership for E-waste Statistics”. Its objective is to help countries produce e-waste statistics and to build a global e-waste database to track developments over time.