A new report from the United Nations Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership (GESP) calls for decision-makers to adopt an internationally recognized framework to measure and monitor electronics waste (e-waste).

The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 provides the most comprehensive overview of the global e-waste challenge, explains how it fits into international efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, and discusses how to create a sustainable society and circular economy.

The report provides national and regional analysis on e-waste quantities and legislative instruments, and makes predictions until 2030. It also encourages decision-makers to increase activities to measure and monitor e-waste using an internationally recognized methodological framework.

According to GESP, a record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste – discarded products with a battery or plug such as computers and mobile phones – is reported generated worldwide in 2019, up 21 per cent in five years.

The new report also predicts global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030, almost double the 2014 figure, fuelled by higher electric and electronic (EEE) consumption rates, shorter lifecycles and limited repair options.

According to the report, Asia generated the greatest volume of e-waste in 2019 (24.9 Mt), followed by the Americas (13.1 Mt) and Europe (12 Mt), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 Mt and 0.7 Mt respectively.

In 2019, only 17.4 per cent of e-waste was officially documented as formally collected and recycled. This means that iron, copper, gold and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at US $57 billion — a sum greater than the gross domestic product of most countries – were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse in 2019. If valuable materials within e-waste are reused and recycled, this can promote a circular economy through secondary material use.

The number of countries that have adopted a national e-waste policy, legislation or regulation has increased from 61 to 78 between 2014 and 2019. In many regions however, regulatory advances are slow, enforcement is low, and the collection and proper e-waste management is poor.

E-waste is a health and environmental hazard if not handled appropriately, as it contains toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury. The report highlights that 50 tonnes of mercury are likely found in undocumented e-waste flows, which pose harm to workers’ health and the environment if released.

The Global E-waste Monitor is a collaborative effort between the Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme currently co-hosted by the United Nations University (UNU) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).

To read the complete report, click here.

The most recent e-waste data available for Canada indicates a recovery rate of 22 per cent. For further information on Canadian recovery programs and legislation, click here.

Featured image credit: GESP.

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