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Mountains of e-waste worth �35bn hit global peak

The amount of global electronic waste reached 41.8m tonnes in 2014 and numbers are on the rise, according to a new UN report.

The Global E-waste Monitor by the United Nations University (UNU) said the e-waste volume reached a global high in 2014 and is expected to see an increase of 21 per cent to 50m metric tonnes by 2018.

Microwave ovens, washing machines and dishwashers made up 60 per cent of the total e-waste thrown away in 2014, while just 7 per cent was made up of mobile phones, calculators or personal computers. Less than one-sixth of all the items discarded found their way into proper recycling and re-use schemes.

David Malone, UN Under-Secretary-General and rector of UNU, warned the mountains of discarded electronics are toxic mines of hazardous substances that must be managed with extreme care.

According to the report, the e-waste contained substantial amounts of health-threatening toxins such as 2.2 Mt of lead glass – more than six times the weight of the Empire State – as well as mercury, cadmium, chromium and 4,400 tonnes of o-zone depleting CFCs.

Kees Baldé, co-author of the study, said: “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 different world regions than has ever been reported previously.”

Also buried in the global electronic waste was iron, copper, gold, silver, aluminium, palladium plastic and other resources with a combined estimated value of £35bn, the report found.

The US was the nation which disposed of most electronic waste with 7,072 kilotonnes generated in 2014, while China came second (6,032 kilotonnes) and Japan third (2,200 kilotonnes).

However, the countries where the most waste generated by each citizen were in Europe, with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and the UK leading the way.

In Norway, each inhabitant did away with about 28.4kg of electronic waste, whereas across Africa levels of e-waste generated per inhabitant were lower at 1.7kg per person.

The report said rising levels of e-waste were being driven by the growing popularity of electronics and because many modern devices did not last as long as older versions of the same products.

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