UN report shows we threw away US$52bn in valuable metals through e-waste in 2014

20 Apr 2015

Ahead of this year’s Earth Day on 22 April, a report from the United Nations University (UNU) has revealed that a record 41.8m tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2014.

The worldwide report has shown that, with the exponential growth of electronic goods globally, there has been a complete lack of an effective response with how to deal with the inevitable replacement of older electronic goods given that, from the UNU’s findings, only 16pc of e-waste is actually recycled.

From their statistics, the greatest proportion of e-waste is derived from goods including vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, electric shavers and video cameras, totalling 12.8m tonnes.

The second biggest source of e-waste is comprised of larger electronic goods. including washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves, and solar energy generating photovoltaic panels.

Interestingly, only 7pc of e-waste was generated by small technology devices that are often highlighted as contributing a greater amount of e-waste, including mobile phones, personal computers and printers.

Perhaps one of the real shocks to come from the report is the amount of valuable and reusable minerals that are disposed of as a result of the dumping of e-waste, with the UNU Estimating that nearly US$52bn of metals were thrown away last year, including 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, and 300 tonnes of gold.

As for where the blame for much of this e-waste lies, China and the US are estimated to have contributed nearly one-third of the world’s total e-waste.

E-waste image via transmediale/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic