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Electronic waste is growing five times faster than recycling

The escalating global challenge of electronic waste (e-waste) generation significantly outstrips the pace at which we are recycling these materials, as highlighted in the UN’s latest Global E-waste Monitor report

Millions of tons of electronic waste 

The staggering 62 million tons of e-waste generated in 2022 paints a vivid picture of the severity of the issue; this amount of waste could fill a line of 40-ton trucks encircling the Earth’s equator. 

Yet, a mere 22.3% of this e-waste was documented to have been recycled properly, spotlighting the vast amount of valuable resources – worth an estimated $62 billion – that remain untapped, and highlighting the increased pollution and health risks to communities across the globe.

Less than half the world is addressing the issue 

“From discarded televisions to dumped telephones, an enormous amount of e-waste is generated around the world. The latest research shows that the global challenge posed by e-waste is only going to grow,” said Cosmas Luckyson Zavazava, the director of ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.

“With less than half of the world implementing and enforcing approaches to manage the problem, this raises the alarm for sound regulations to increase collection and recycling.”

“The Global E-waste Monitor is the world’s foremost source for e-waste data allowing us to track progress overtime and to make critical decisions when it comes to transitioning to a circular economy for electronics.”

Pressing need to amplify our recycling endeavors

The annual rise of 2.6 million tons in e-waste production, with predictions set to soar to 82 million tons by 2030, underscores a pressing need to amplify our recycling endeavors to prevent further environmental degradation and safeguard human health. 

E-waste, defined as any discarded product with a plug or battery, harbors toxic additives and hazardous substances, including mercury, posing grave threats to human health and environmental well-being.

Widening gap between e-waste and recycling 

The widening gap between e-waste production and recycling is attributed to several factors, including rapid technological advancements, higher consumption rates, limited repair options, shorter product life cycles, societal shifts towards greater electronification, design challenges, and insufficient e-waste management infrastructure. 

This complex web of challenges highlights the urgent need for integrated solutions that encompass technological innovation, policy reform, and community engagement to enhance e-waste recycling efforts globally.

Reducing e-waste generation at the source

In response to these challenges, the report posits a holistic approach that emphasizes not only the economic and environmental benefits of enhanced e-waste recycling but also the critical importance of reducing e-waste generation at the source. 

Through targeted initiatives that promote repair, reuse, and responsible consumption, alongside the development of more sustainable product designs and improved e-waste management systems, we can begin to address the root causes of the e-waste crisis.

Reclaiming valuable materials from e-waste

One of the report’s striking revelations is the current inefficiency in reclaiming valuable materials from e-waste, which presents both an economic loss and a missed opportunity for reducing reliance on primary resource extraction. 

By improving recycling rates and adopting more circular economy practices, we can mitigate the environmental impact of e-waste and foster a more sustainable relationship with our electronic devices.

Collective action is needed

As we navigate the complexities of the e-waste challenge, the report calls for collective action from policymakers, industry leaders, researchers, and consumers to reimagine our approach to electronics consumption and waste management

Through innovative solutions, strategic partnerships, and public awareness campaigns, we can drive significant progress towards a future where electronic waste no longer poses a threat to our planet and our health.

Global E-waste Monitor report

For a comprehensive understanding of the e-waste dilemma and the path forward, the Global E-waste Monitor report serves as an invaluable resource, offering detailed insights, data, and recommendations for tackling this pressing environmental issue. 

By confronting the e-waste challenge head-on, we can unlock new opportunities for resource conservation, environmental protection, and economic growth, ensuring a more sustainable and equitable world for future generations.

Business as usual can’t continue

“No more than 1% of demand for essential rare earth elements is met by e-waste recycling,” said report lead author Kees Baldé, an expert in e-waste at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

“Simply put: Business as usual can’t continue. This new report represents an immediate call for greater investment in infrastructure development, more promotion of repair and reuse, capacity building, and measures to stop illegal e-waste shipments. And the investment would pay for itself in spades.” 


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