June 12, 2019

50 million tonnes of e-waste litter the world annually


By Emmanuel Elebeke


The International Telecommunications Union, ITU, is raising the alarm that electronic waste is growing in alarming rate and may spell doom across the world if not adequately checked.

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ITU says the world now discards approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) per year. This quantum of e-waste, according to the Union, is greater in weight than all of the commercial airliners put together. Meanwhile, of the lot, only 20 per cent is formally recycled.

What that means is that the world would have to grapple with the health hazards of the 80 per cent that litter the global space.

E-waste includes discarded equipment such as phones, laptops, fridges, sensors and television sets, among others.

ITU is saying that every country should develop a sustainable policy to check the spread of e-waste to avert the immense danger it portends or at best utilise its economic value by recycling it.

E-waste-connected health risks may result from direct contact with harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls, from inhalation of toxic fumes, as well as from accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food.

E-waste can also give rise to a number of other toxic by-products likely to affect human health.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO: “Children are especially vulnerable to the health risks that may result from e-waste exposure and, therefore, need more specific protection. As they are still growing, children’s intake of air, water and food in proportion to their weight is significantly increased compared to adults, and with that, the risk of hazardous chemical absorption.”

On the other hand, e-waste presents an opportunity worth over $62.5 billion per year if treated through appropriate recycling chains and methods, with the potential of creating millions of decent new jobs worldwide.

However, the ITU said it is determined to address the challenge and create a balance. The Union has through the global e-waste statistics partnership, unveiled an open source portal,, that visualises e-waste data and statistics globally, by region and by country, for policy-makers, industry, academia and the public. gives users access to e-waste data including the amount of e-waste generated in total and per capita and discarded prior to any collection, reuse, treatment, or export; the amount of e-waste formally collected in total and per capita and regulated by environmental protection laws specifically designed for e-waste; and e-waste legislation by country, where applicable.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Rector of the United Nations University, David Malone, said: “Our research and advocacy on sustainable e-waste practices are helping to place this issue on the global political agenda, but more action is needed to stem the ever-increasing tide of e-waste.

“We need to develop innovative e-waste policies, establish and monitor waste-reduction targets, and forge new multi-stakeholder partnerships for action, including the private sector. We hope the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership and the new interactive online platform will support these needed steps.”