The value of copper and other recoverable materials in the e-waste generated around the world in 2016 was an estimated USD$55 billion, according to the new Global E-Waste Monitor 2017 report. That’s more than the GDP of most countries in the world, the authors said.
Yet most of the 44.7 million metric tons is going in the trash, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) team found. The report seeks to increase awareness and attention to “the growing world issue of e-waste, which includes discarded products with a battery or plug including mobile phones, laptops, televisions, refrigerators and electrical toys.”
Just 20 percent of that ever-growing mountain of e-waste is recycled and reused, most often in Africa by informal collectors and recyclers working without e-waste policies and environmental protections. While the continent remains a top destination for e-waste disposal, Africans have the overall lowest amount of generated waste at 1.9 kilograms per inhabitant. Egypt, South Africa and Algeria alone generated half of the e-waste volume of the entire continent, with high per-capita rates in Libya, Mauritius and Seychelles.
The world’s e-waste is expected to go up 17 percent by 2021, an alarming trend for public health and the environment.
“We live in a time of transition to a more digital world, where automation, sensors and artificial intelligence are transforming industry and society,” said Antonis Mavropoulos, President of the International Solid Waste association (ISWA), a partner agency on the report.
“E-waste is the most emblematic by-product of this transition and finding the proper solutions for e-waste management is a measure of our ability to utilize the technological advances to stimulate a sustainable future and to make the circular economy a reality.”
There’s much optimism for that, with promising trends across the continent. Rwanda and Uganda are among nations with formal e-waste management policies. Madagascar, Kenya and Ghana have passed e-waste bills into law, while South Africa, Zambia, Cameroon and Nigeria are working toward them.