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Published: Sat, December 16, 2017
Medical | By Garry George

United Nations report warns of the mounting volume of electronic waste

United Nations report warns of the mounting volume of electronic waste

The growing volume of electronic waste, including discarded products with a battery or plug, such as mobile phones, laptops, televisions, refrigerators and electrical toys, poses a major threat to the environment and human health, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) warned.

The authors estimate that only 20% of all e-waste was recycled, despite it containing large quantities of reusable materials such as gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium.

To put that in perspective, the weight of last year's e-waste was equivalent to about 4,500 Eiffel Towers, according to the study by the United Nations university, the International Telecommunication Union and the International Solid Waste Association.

"We need to be able to measure and collect data and statistics on e-waste, locally and globally, in a uniform way", he said.

The study said rising incomes and falling prices for electronic items from solar panels to fridges were to blame for the 8 percent increase in e-waste, which sat at 41 million tons in 2014. Experts foresee e-waste increasing a further 17pc to 52.2m metric tonnes by 2021.

In 2016, the worldwide e-waste average was 13.5 pounds per person, or 54 pounds for a family of four. At present, 66% of the world's people - living in 67 countries - are covered by national e-waste management laws, an increase mainly due to India's adoption of legislation previous year.

While only around 4 per cent of 2016's waste is known to have made it into the landfills, an estimated 76 per cent is believed to have been burnt, thrown undocumented into landfills or unofficial dumping grounds or left in people's homes.

"The world's e-waste problem continues to grow", the UNU's vice-rector Jakob Rhyner said.

Each product within the six e-waste categories has a different lifetime profile, which means that each category has different waste quantities, economic values, and potential environmental and health impacts if recycled inappropriately.

The report comes as the holiday season fast approaches.

Europe had the highest collection rates, at 35 percent. China was the biggest source of the scrap with 7.2 million tonnes in 2016, ahead of the United States.

The report, Global E-waste Monitor 2017, said that domestically India produced 1.95 million tonnes of e-waste past year - or about 1.5 kg per person - and it also imports it from developed countries.

Although countries widely vary in recycling capacity, nowhere in the world is equipped to deal with increasing e-waste-there isn't a country that come closes to recycling even half.

Approximately 80% of electronic waste is improperly discarded and undocumented.

. Africa, for example, accounted for only about five percent of the total e-waste generated-roughly zero of which was recycled.

"National data should be internationally comparable, frequently updated, published and interpreted".

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