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Obsolete electronics pile up as e-waste outstrips recycling efforts, UN warns

UN agencies have warned that waste from electronics is piling up worldwide while global recycling rates remain low and are likely to fall even further.

In a report released this week, the United Nations International Telecommunications Union and research arm UNITAR said some 56 million tonnes of “e-waste” was generated in 2022 – enough to fill tractor-trailers that could be lined up bumper to bumper around the globe.

That amount is on track to reach more than 70 million tonnes by 2030.

E-waste is defined as discarded devices with a plug or battery such as mobile phones, electronic toys, TVs, microwave ovens, e-cigarettes, laptop computers and solar panels.

It does not include waste from electronic vehicles, which fall into a separate category.

According to the report, metals – including copper, gold and iron – make up half of the 60 million tonnes, worth a total of over €80 billion.

Plastics accounted for over 15 million tonnes and the remaining 12 million tonnes included substances such as composite materials and glass.

Chasing 'hazardous elements'

The United Nations says 22 percent of e-waste mass was properly collected and recycled in 2022.

However, that figure is expected to fall to 20 percent by the end of the decade because of "staggering growth" of such waste due to higher consumption, limited repair options, shorter product lifecycles, the growing "electronification" of society, and inadequate e-waste management infrastructure.

Only 1 percent of the demand for the 17 minerals that make up the rare metals is met through recycling.


Read more on RFI English

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