A new report from UN University suggests that 41.8 million tonnes of electronic equipment was thrown away in 2014.
Most of this e-waste (60 percent) comes from kitchen, bathroom and laundry equipment, according to the report, and most of it comes from the United States.
“Worldwide, e-waste constitutes a valuable ‘urban mine’ – a large potential reservoir of recyclable materials,” said David Malone, UN under-secretary and rector of the Tokyo-based UNU. “At the same time, the hazardous content of e-waste constitutes a ‘toxic mine’ that must be managed with extreme care. There is a large portion of e-waste that is not being collected and treated in an environmentally sound manner.”
Of the nearly 42 million tonnes of e-waste tabulated by the UN, over 16 million tonnes of it is iron, 1.9 million tonnes of it is copper and 300 tonnes of it is composed of gold, palladium and other precious metals. The combined value of these materials? About $52 billion.
The U.S. generates about 7.1 million tonnes of e-waste, followed by China, at 6.03 million, and Japan, at 2.2 million. According to the report, the levels of e-waste generation is rising due to the increasing use of domestic electronics and their declining lifespans.
Currently, less than a fifth of electronic waste is properly recycled or reused. The rest of it is often shipped to countries with loose regulations on e-waste disposal, such as Ghana.
Agbogbloshie, located outside Ghana’s capital city, has become the world’s largest dumpsite for electronic waste. There, locals scrounge amongst the discarded refrigerators and computers and telephones for precious metals on ground that has become saturated with toxic chemicals: cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead.
Frederico Magalini, a UNU researcher, told The Independent that minimizing consumption of electronics is not enough to stop this problem.
“We should not simply try to stop consumption to minimize the amount of waste being generated,” he said, “but should instead make sure that it is properly collected and recycled. There is an opportunity to create jobs and extract those resources currently being discarded.”
Meanwhile, most of Agbogbloshie’s “recyclers” are dying of cancer before they reach thirty.