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E-waste totals at 41.8 million metric tonnes in 2014

In 2014, people worldwide discarded all but a small fraction of an estimated 41.8 million metric tonnes (megatonnes – Mt) of electrical and electronic products.
Most of the 41.8 Mt waste were end-of-life kitchen, laundry and bathroom equipment like microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers. And the volume of e-waste is expected to rise by 21% to 50 million Mt in 2018.

The new figures were released in the Global E-Waste Monitor 2014, compiled by the United Nations University (UNU), the UN’s think tank.

Just 7% of e-waste last year was made up of mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, printers, and small information technology equipment.

Almost 60% was a mix of large and small equipment used in homes and businesses, consisting of:
  • 12.8 Mt of small equipment (vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, electric shavers, video cameras, etc.);
  • 11.8 Mt of large equipment (washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves, photovoltaic panels, etc.);
  • 7.0 Mt of cooling and freezing equipment (temperature exchange equipment);
  • 6.3 Mt of screens;
  • 3.0 Mt of small IT (mobile phones, pocket calculators, personal computers, printers, etc.); and
  • 1.0 Mt of lamps

The 41.8 Mt weight of last year’s e-waste is comparable to that of 1.15 million 40-ton 18-wheel trucks — enough to form a line of trucks 23'000 kilometres long, or the distance from New York to Tokyo and back. Less than one-sixth of last year’s e-waste is thought to have been diverted to proper recycling and reuse.

The e-waste generated in 2014 contained an estimated 16'500 kilotons of iron, 1'900 kilotons of copper, 300 tonnes of gold (equal to 11% of the world’s total 2013 gold production), as well as silver, aluminum, palladium plastic and other resources with a combined estimated value of USD 52 billion (EUR 48 billion).

Toxins in that e-waste, meanwhile, include 2.2 Mt of lead glass, 0.3 Mt of batteries, as well as mercury, cadmium, chromium and 4'400 tonnes of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs). Health problems associated with such toxins include impaired mental development, cancer, and damage to liver and kidneys.

And while the US and China produce the most e-waste overall (32% of the world’s total), the top per capita producers by far are the wealthy nations of northern and western Europe, the top five being Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and the UK.
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