Time those broken phones and computers got the (re)boot
A new UN joint report shows that the world is discarding an alarming amount of electronic and electrical waste
The world’s annual discarded electronic waste weighs more than 50 million tons, which is equivalent to 12,500 jumbo jets or 4,500 Eiffel Towers.
This startling figure is revealed in a new United Nations report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot”, launched in Davos on Thursday.
Only 20% is formally recycled.
The United Nations University predicts that e-waste could triple to 120 million tons by 2050 if no recycling commitments are made.
In SA, electronic waste – anything that runs on electricity, from cellphones and computers to light bulbs and home appliances – makes up as much as 8% of municipal solid waste and is growing three times faster than any other waste.
But of the estimated 2 million tons generated in South Africa each year, only 4,490 tons were collected and recycled in 2014 (the last year it was measured).
In addition, 120 tons from Lesotho, 622 tons from Botswana and 6 tons from Tanzania were imported in 2014 and 2015.
According to the report, Australia, China, the EU, Japan, North America and the South Korea produce most of the world’s e-waste.
“In the United States and Canada, every person produces roughly 20kg of e-waste annually, while in the EU the figure stands at 17.7kg. Yet the 1.2 billion inhabitants of the African continent each generated an average of just 1.9kg of electronic waste,” it stated.
The lowest e-waste-generating nations are Niger, Ethopia, Afganistan, Uganda and Nepal.
The report states that technologies such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things could hold the potential to gradually “dematerialise” the electronics industry.
The report noted that working electronic goods and components were worth more than the materials they contain.
“Therefore, extending the life of products and re-using components brings an even larger economic benefit.”
“There is also an opportunity to build a more circular electronics system, one in which resources are not extracted, used and wasted, but valued and re-used in ways that create decent, sustainable jobs.”
International Telecommunication Union (ITU) secretary-general Houlin Zhao said the United Nations agency had been raising awareness and guiding efforts to reduce and rethink e-waste since 2011.
“So I am delighted to see that a movement to promote a circular economy for electronics is now gaining ground. Together with newly created partnerships such as the United Nations E-waste Coalition, we can transform waste into wealth, and deliver development benefits to all.”