UN report: Time to tackle challenge of e-waste

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The world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made.

Only 20% of this is formally recycled, with 80% either ending up in landfill or being informally recycled – much of it by hand in developing countries, exposing workers to hazardous and carcinogenic substances such as mercury, lead and cadmium. E-waste in landfill contaminates soil and groundwater, putting food supply systems and water sources at risk.

The e-waste produced annually is worth over $62.5 billion, more than the GDP of most countries. There is 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore.

Global e-waste production is on track to reach 120 million tonnes per year by 2050 if current trends continue, according to a report from the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the UN E-Waste Coalition released at Davos today.

Organisations are making a call for an overhaul of the current electronics system. Solutions include durable product design, buy-back and return systems for used electronics, ‘urban mining’ to extract metals and minerals from e-waste, and the ‘dematerialisation’ of electronics by replacing outright device ownership with rental and leasing models in order to maximise product reuse and recycling opportunities.

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