The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 introduces the wider public to the global e-waste challenge, explains how the challenge currently fits into international efforts to reach the sustainable development goals and discusses how to create a circular economy and sustainable societies.
“Go Paperless”, “Go Green” and “Save Trees” are common messages seen these days as many organisations encourage their customers to switch to electronic transactions and communications. But are these appeals based on fact?
These sorts of messages give the impression that electronic communication is more environmentally friendly than traditional, paper-based communication. But it is very difficult to make such a statement without considering the full lifetime of those different mediums.
Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) has become an essential part of everyday life. Its availability and widespread use have enabled much of the global population to benefit from higher standards of living. However, the way in which we produce, consume, and dispose of e-waste is unsustainable. Because of the slow adoption of collection and recycling, externalities –such as the consumption of resources, the emission of greenhouse gases, and the release of toxic substances during informal recycling procedures– illustrate the problem to remain within sustainable limits.
On average, the total weight (excluding photovoltaic panels) of global Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) consumption increases annually by 2.5 million metric tons (Mt).
In 2019, the world generated a striking 53.6 Mt of e-waste, an average of 7.3 kg per capita. The global generation of e-waste grew by 9.2 Mt since 2014 and is projected to grow to 74.7 Mt by 2030 – almost doubling in only 16 years. The growing amount of e-waste is mainly fueled by higher consumption rates of EEE, short life cycles, and few repair options.
Asia generated the highest quantity of e-waste in 2019 at 24.9 Mt, followed by the Americas (13.1 Mt) and Europe (12 Mt), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 Mt and 0.7 Mt, respectively. Europe ranked first worldwide in terms of e-waste generation per capita, with 16.2 kg per capita. Oceania was second (16.1 kg per capita), followed by the Americas (13.3 kg per capita), while Asia and Africa generated just 5.6 and 2.5 kg per capita, respectively.
In 2019, the formal documented collection and recycling was 9.3 Mt, thus 17.4% compared to e-waste generated. It grew with 1.8 Mt since 2014, an annual growth of almost 0.4 Mt. However, the total e-waste generation increased by 9.2 Mt, with an annual growth of almost 2 Mt. Thus the recycling activities are not keeping pace with the global growth of e-waste.
The statistics show that in 2019, the continent with the highest collection and recycling rate was Europe with 42.5%, Asia ranked second at 11.7%, the Americas and Oceania were similar at 9.4% and 8.8%, respectively, and Africa had the lowest rate at 0.9%.
Improper management of e-waste also contributes to global warming. First of all, if the materials in e-waste are not recycled, they cannot substitute primary raw materials and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of primary raw materials. Next, the refrigerants that are found in some temperature exchange equipment are greenhouse gases. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents were released into the atmosphere from discarded fridges and air-conditioners that were not managed in an environmentally sound manner. This is approximately 0.3% of global energy-related emissions in 2019 (IEA).
E-waste is an ‘urban mine’, as it contains several precious, critical, and other noncritical metals that, if recycled, can be used as secondary materials. The value of raw materials in the global e-waste generated in 2019 is equal to approximately $57 billion USD.
To find out more about the impact our e-waste is having, download the full report.