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Experts lament rising global e-waste in 2017

…as recycled e-waste generates over $55 billion

By Emmanuel Elebeke

A new assessment on global electronic waste (e-waste), policies and statistics by the International Telecommunication Union, ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technology in conjunction with the United Nations University, UNU, and the International Solid Waste Association, ISWA, has shown that not only did global e-Waste grow by eight percent in the last two years, it is predicted to increase by 17 percent come 2021.

The assessment, tagged The Global E-waste Monitor 2017, stated that “In 2016, 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated, which is up 3.3 million metric tonnes, 8 percent, from 2014. In 2016, only about 20 percent (8.9 million metric tonnes) of all e-waste was recycled,” as it added that a further 17 percent increase to 52.2 million metric tonnes of e-waste by 2021 is expected.

According to the experts, the assessment seeks to increase global awareness and draw attention to the  issue of e-waste, which includes discarded products with a battery including mobile phones, laptops, televisions, refrigerators and electric toys.

The assessment also highlights the growing risk to the environment and human health due to increasing levels of e-waste and its unsafe treatment through burning or in dumpsites.

The assessment also notes that there are a growing number of countries are adopting e-waste legislation. “Currently 66 percent of the world’s 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.”

Speaking on the outcome of the assessment, ITU Secretary- General, Houlin Zhao said “Environmental protection is one of the three pillars of sustainable development and ITU is at the forefront of advocating safe disposal of waste generated by information and communication technologies. E-waste management is an urgent issue in today’s digitally dependent world, where use of electronic devices is ever increasing, this is as included in ITU’s Connect 2020 Agenda targets.”

For the Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, Brahima Sanou, Global E-waste Monitor serves as a valuable resource for governments developing necessary management strategies to reduce the adverse health and environmental effects of e-waste.

“With 53.6 percent of global households now having internet access, ICT’s are empowering people to enhance their social and economic well-being. In this light, the Global E-Waste 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 e-waste policies will help minimize e-waste production, prevent illegal dumping, promote recycling, and create jobs in the refurbishment and recycling sector.”

According to Vice-Rector of the UNU, Jakob Rhyner, the world’s e-waste problem continues to grow. Improved measurement of e-waste is essential to set and monitor targets, as well as identify policies. “National data should be internationally comparable and frequently updated. 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 land filling.”

President of ISWA, Antonis Mavropoulos, also added “We live in a time of transition to a more digital world, where automation, sensors and artificial intelligence are transforming industry and society. As such, 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 utilize 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.”

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 US $55 billion, which is more than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries in the world.

Earlier this year ITU, UNU and ISWA joined forces to launch the Global Partnership for E-waste Statistics, with the objective of helping countries produce e-waste statistics and build a global e-waste database to track developments over time.

This partnership further aims to map recycling opportunities from e-waste, pollutants and e-waste related health effects, along with building national and regional capacities to help countries produce reliable and comparable e-waste statistics that can identify best practices of global e-waste management.

Ultimately, its work will contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 11.6 and 12.5 by monitoring relevant waste streams and tracking the ITU Connect 2020 target 3.2 on e-waste.


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