Discarded kitchen, laundry, bathroom equipment comprises over half of E-waste: UNU

United Nations University, Bonn

19 April 2015

End-of-life electronic, electrical equipment 
totals 41.8 million metric tonnes in 2014 

E-waste last year contained $52 billion in resources, large volumes of toxic material; most is not collected for recovery or treatment

New report details e-waste generation by region

Bonn — In 2014, people worldwide discarded all but a small fraction of an estimated 41.8 million metric tonnes (Mt) of electrical and electronic products – mostly 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 today in the Global E-Waste Monitor 2014, compiled by  the United Nations University (UNU), the UN’s think tank.  The report offers in unprecedented detail a wealth of insights into the location and composition of the world’s fast-growing e-waste problem. 

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.)
  • 1.0 Mt of lamps

The 41.8 million 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, reuse and treatment.

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 US $52 billion (48 billion Euro).  

Toxins in that e-waste, meanwhile, include 2.2 Mt of lead glass-more than six times the weight of the Empire State Building -0.3 Mt of batteries, as well as mercury, cadmium, chromium and 4,400 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances (CFCs).   Health problems associated with such toxins include impaired mental development, cancer, and damage to livers and kidneys.

And while the USA 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.

The escalating global e-waste problem is driven by the rising sales and shortening life cycles of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE -essentially, any device with a battery or an electric cord).

“Worldwide, e-waste constitutes a valuable ‘urban mine’ – a large potential reservoir of recyclable materials.  At the same time, the hazardous content of e-waste constitutes a ‘toxic mine’ that must be managed with extreme care,” says UN Under-Secretary-General David Malone, Rector of UNU. 

“The monitor provides a baseline for national policymakers, producers and the recycling industry, to plan take-back systems. It can also facilitate cooperation around controlling illegal trade, supporting necessary technology development and transfer, and assisting international organizations, governments and research institutes in their efforts as they develop appropriate countermeasures. This will eventually lead to improved resource efficiency while reducing the environmental and health impacts of e-waste.”

Says co-author Kees Baldé  of United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) SCYCLE in Bonn (Germany): “This report, based on empirical data, provides an unprecedented level of detail and a more accurate overview of the magnitude of the e-waste problem in world different regions than has ever been reported previously.”

Selected highlights:

  • In 2014, approximately 4 billion people were covered by national e-waste legislation (though not all laws cover the full range of e-waste and are not all enforced). 
  • Around 6.5 Mt of e-waste was reported as formally treated by national take-back systems
  • Most world e-waste in 2014 was generated in Asia: 16 Mt (3.7 kg per inhabitant)
  • The highest per inhabitant e-waste quantity (15.6 kg/inh.) was generated in Europe; the region (including Russia) generated 11.6 Mt
  • The lowest quantity of e-waste was generated in Oceania (0.6 Mt), however, per inhabitant the e-waste generated was nearly as high as Europe’s (15.2 kg/inh.)
  • The lowest amount of e-waste per inhabitant was generated in Africa (1.7 kg/inh). The continent generated 1.9 Mt of e-waste in total.
  • The Americas generated 11.7 Mt of e-waste (7.9 Mt in North America, 1.1 Mt in Central America, 2.7 Mt in South America), or an average of 12.2 kg/inh
  • Growth of e-waste by volume since 2010, with projections to 2018

Top 40 e-waste producing nations, per capita (kg per individual)

Top 40 e-waste producing nations, by volume (kilotonnes)

(please see annex 1, page 62: http://bit.ly/1an7E08) 

* * * * *

United Nations University

UNU is an autonomous organ of the UN General Assembly dedicated to generating and transferring knowledge and strengthening capacities relevant to global issues of human security, development, and welfare. The University operates through a worldwide network of research and training centres and programmes, coordinated by UNU Centre in Tokyo.

UNU’s Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) is a leading research and teaching institute based in Tokyo. Its mission is to advance efforts towards a more sustainable future, through policy-oriented research and capacity development focused on sustainability and its social, economic and environmental dimensions. UNU-IAS serves the international community, making valuable and innovative contributions to high-level policymaking and debates within the UN system.

Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) is an operating unit of UNU-IAS based in Bonn, Germany. Its activities are focused on the development of sustainable production, consumption and disposal patterns for electrical and electronic equipment, as well as other ubiquitous goods. SCYCLE leads the global e-waste discussion and advances sustainable e-waste management strategies based on life-cycle thinking.   SCYCLE fosters a solutions-oriented dialogue, cooperation and consensus through e.g. hosting the Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative, a global network of more than 65 member organizations committed to developing applicable, holistic, science-based recommendations concerning the growing e-waste problem.

* * * * *

Example coverage by

Agence France Presse, Mountain of electrical waste reaches new peak,”click here; French, “Record de déchets électriques et électroniques dans le monde en 2014,” click hereSpanish, “Récord de residuos eléctricos y electrónicos en el mundo en 2014,” click hereGerman, “Weltweit produzierter Elektroschrott erreicht Rekordmenge,” click here; Chinese, “回收還不夠 全球電子垃圾量創新高,” click here

Reuters, UK, “U.S., China top dumping of electronic waste; little recycled,” click hereCzech, “Nejvíc elektroodpadu na obyvatele má Norsko Zdroj” click hereCroatian,  “SAD i Kina vodeći proizvođači elektroničkog otpada” click hereIndonesian, “AS, China paling banyak buang sampah elektronik,” click here

BBC Online, UK, “Microwaves and dishwashers dominate e-waste mountain,” click hereSpanish, “¿Cuáles son los países de América Latina que más basura electrónica producen?,” click hereTurkish, “Elektronik çöp dağları geri dönüştürülemiyor,” click here

CBS News, USA, “United States, China are biggest producers of e-waste,” click here

Forbes, USA, “Which Country Is On Top Of The World’s Electronic Waste Mountain? [Infographic],” click here

The Weather Network, USA, “Report names U.S. and China as worst e-waste culprits,” click here

Gizmodo, USA, “Humans Threw Out 92 Billion Pounds of Electronics Last Year,” click here

Salon, USA. “The planet’s e-waste problem is out of control — and getting worse,” click here

Voice of America, USA “UN: Record Amount of E-Waste Generated,” click hereIndonesian, “PBB: Limbah Elektronik Tahun 2014 Memecahkan Rekor,” click hereChinese: “聯合國:全球電子垃圾量去年創紀錄,” click hereVietnamese, “LHQ: Rác thải điện tử tăng cao kỷ lục,” click here

United Press International, USA, “Worldwide electronic waste worth $52 billion; 60 percent household appliances,” click here

UK Press Association, “Warning as ‘e-waste’ levels rise,” click here

The Independent, UK, “Electronic waste worth £34bn piling up in ‘toxic mine’, warns UN report,” click here

Agencia EFE, Spain, “La basura electrónica aumentó en todo el mundo a 41,8 millones de toneladas,” click here

Sing Tao, “美中去年製造最多電子垃圾” click here

China Daily, China, “印度已成世界第五大电子垃圾生产国,” click here

Sina Daily, China, “去年电子垃圾再创新高 美、中最多,” click here

Yonhap news, Korea, “‘금·은·철’ 포함 전자폐기물 16%만 재활용,” click here

Press Trust of India (PTI), India 5th biggest generator of e-waste in 2014: UN report,” click hereHindi: “भारत ई-कचरा पैदा करने वाला 5वां सबसे बड़ा देश: संयुक्त राष्ट्र,” click here

O Globo, Brazil, “Maior parte das 41,8 milhões de toneladas de e-lixo produzidas em 2014 é de eletrodomésticos,” click here

Norsk Telegrambyrå (NTB), Norway, “Nordmenn kaster mest elektronisk avfall i verden,” click here

Finska Notisbyrån (FNB), Finland, “FN: Det elektroniska sopberget växer,” click here

Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANP)Netherlands, “Huishoudelijke apparaten vormen enorme afvalberg, meer recyclen is nodig,” click here

Corriere Della Sera, Italy, “Nuovo record per i rifiuti elettronici: toccano i 42 milioni di tonnellate,” click here

Repubblica, Italy, “42 milioni di tonnellate di rifiuti elettronici,” click here

Informazione, Italy, “Nel 2014 record mondiale di rifiuti elettrici ed elettronici,” click here

Morgunblaðið, Iceland, “Íslend­ing­ar henda mikið af raf­tækj­um,” click here

Namasthe Telangana Daily, Telugu language, India, “ఈ-వ్యర్థాల ఉత్పత్తిలో భారత్ ఐదో స్థానం,” click here

Thế Giới Tiếp Thị, Vietnam, “Rác điện tử chủ yếu từ nhà bếp,” click here

Bultan News, Persian, Iran, “تولید 42 میلیون تن زباله الکترونیکی در سال 2014,” click here

CBC, Canada, “Discarded metal UN calls ‘toxic mine’ worth some $52 billion US,” click here

Lenta, Russian, Russia, “В мире за год выбросили 300 тонн золота,” click here

STYK News, Ukrainian, Ukraine, “У світі за рік викинули 300 тонн золота,” click here

La Tribune, France, “Le poids des déchets électroniques à un niveau record en 2014,” click here

20 Minutes, France, “2014, année du record de déchets électriques et électroniques dans le monde,” click here

France TV Info, France, “Plus de 40 millions de tonnes de déchets électriques et électroniques jetés dans le monde en 2014,” click here

The Local, Denmark, “Denmark among top producers of e-waste,” click here

* * * * *

News release in full, click here

Global E-waste Monitor in full, click here

Coverage summary, with links to coverage in 29 languages, 75 countries, click here