The amount of e-waste is exploding and poses an environmental problem

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

The UN defines electronic waste as any product that is discarded with a battery or plug and contains toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, which can pose a serious risk to human health and the environment. And the amount of electronic waste (e-waste) produced in the world in 2019 reached a record 53.6 million tonnes (Mt), an increase of 9.2 Mt in five years, according to the United Nations (UN) report, Global e-waste monitor 2020.

Electronic wastes separated for recycling

TLDR: The explosion of the amount of e-waste is an environmental and health problem that must absolutely be addressed in the fight to save our planet, people and the climate. Actions must be taken at our level, as well as at the level of companies and states.

The origin of e-waste

According to the Global e-waste monitor 2020 report, 17.4 Mt of e-waste generated last year consisted of small equipment, while 13 Mt was large equipment, with heat exchangers accounting for nearly 11 Mt. Screens and monitors, small computer and telecommunications equipment and lamps accounted for 6.7 Mt, 4.7 Mt and 0.9 Mt respectively.

In absolute terms, Asia generates the largest volume of electronic waste, nearly 25 Mt, followed by the American continent with 13 Mt and Europe with 12 Mt. Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 Mt and 0.7 Mt respectively. However, on a per capita basis, Europe and Oceania led the way with just over 16 kg per capita and America with around 13 kg. Asia is at the bottom of the spectrum with 5.6 kg per capita, while Africa weighs only 2.5 kg.

On the basis of per capita figures, the report shows that an individual disposes of an average of 7.3 kg of e-waste.

Global e-waste monitor 2020

The problem of recycling

Less than 20% of e-waste is recycled. While the number of countries that have adopted a national e-waste policy, legislation or regulation in the past five years has increased from 61 to 78, only 17.4 per cent of e-waste was collected and recycled by 2019, the report says. This means that about $57 billion worth of gold, silver, copper and other components considered "recoverable materials" have been land filled or burned.

"Substantially greater efforts are urgently needed to ensure smarter and more sustainable production, consumption and disposal of electrical and electronic equipment worldwide. This report makes a powerful contribution to the sense of urgency to reverse this dangerous global pattern".

Evolution of the number of countries implementing legislation

More waste to come!

Based on the latest figures, the UN predicts that global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030, estimating that it will be fueled by higher rates of electrical and electronic consumption, shorter life cycles and limited repair possibilities.

Global e-waste monitor 2020

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced ambitious plans to be carbon-negative by 2030, with the company hoping that by 2050 it will have removed from the environment all the carbon that has been emitted by its activities - both directly and through electricity consumption - since its creation in 1975.

Microsoft intends to live up to its policy by being an advocate of emissions reduction, by being "grounded in science and mathematics", by investing in carbon reduction and elimination technologies, and by being transparent. It will also electrify its fleet of vehicles for operations on campuses around the world by 2030.

Global average number of appliances owner per capita

Global e-waste monitor 2020

Business Transition

"Global climate experts agree that the world needs to take urgent action to reduce emissions," said Microsoft in a blog post. "This would require aggressive approaches, new technologies that don't yet exist, and innovative public policies."

Meanwhile, last month Amazon set up a $2 billion fund to invest in technologies that help companies reduce their carbon footprint. The fund, called the "Climate Pledge", will invest in companies that create products and services to help reduce carbon impact and ease the transition of companies to net zero carbon production.

Amazon's Climate Pledge, made in September last year, aims to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030 and to become carbon neutral in all its operations by 2040.

Risks of e-wastes on kids health

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