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E-Waste Is Growing 5x Faster Than It Can Be Recycled, Says UN – Slashdot

According to a United Nations report, humans are producing electronic waste almost five times faster than we’re recycling it. “While e-waste recycling has benefits estimated to include $23 billion of monetized value from avoided greenhouse gas emissions and $28 billion of recovered materials like gold, copper, and iron, it also comes at a cost — $10 billion associated with e-waste treatment and $78 billion of externalized costs to people and the environment,” reports The Register. “Overall, this puts the net annual economic monetary cost of e-waste at $37 billion. And this is expected to reach $40 billion by 2030 if improvements in e-waste management and policies aren’t made.” From the report: The 2024 Global E-waste Monitor (GEM) [PDF] was prepared by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). The report reveals that annual generation of e-waste — discarded devices with a plug or battery — is growing at a rate of 2.6 million metric tons per year (a metric ton is equivalent to roughly 2,204.62 pounds — all units in this story are metric) and is expected to reach 82 million tons by 2030, from 62 million tons in 2022. Those 62 million tons, the report suggests, would fill 1.55 million 40-ton trucks, which would roughly encircle the equator — if you parked them end-to-end and paved the relevant oceans. And that’s to say nothing of the economic consequences of taking so many trucks out of service and disrupting global shipping routes with an equatorial parking structure, so let’s not.

Of the 62 million tons of e-waste generated globally in 2022, an estimated 13.8 million tons was documented, collected, and properly recycled. Another 16 million tons is said to have been recycled through undocumented channels in high and middle-income countries with developed waste management infrastructure. A further 18 million tons, it is estimated, was processed in low and middle-low income countries without developed e-waste management systems — through which toxic chemicals get released. And the final 14 million tons are said to have been thrown away to end up mainly in landfills — also not ideal.

The rate of e-waste creation and recycling varies by region. In Europe, per capita e-waste generation is 17.6 kg and recycling is 7.5 kg. In Oceania, it’s 16.1 kg and 6.7 kg respectively. In the Americas, it’s 14.1 kg and 4.2 kg. The annual average formal collection and recycling rate in Europe is 42.8 percent, compared to 41.4 percent in Oceania, 30 percent in the Americas, 11.8 percent in Asia, and 0.7 percent in Africa. The report calls for stronger formal e-waste management and for policy makers to make sure that initiatives to promote renewable energy don’t end up undermining environmental concerns. It notes, for example, that e-waste from photovoltaic panels — to generate solar power — is expected to quadruple from 0.6 million tons in 2022 to 2.4 million tons in 2030.


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