The roughly 1.2 billion people who live on the African continent contribute the least to the world’s e-waste problem, but in countries like Liberia and Ghana they deal with the trash left behind from the world’s digital and technological advances. All told, an estimated 48.5 million tons of e-waste was generated in 2018, according to the United Nations: It’s the fastest growing waste stream in the world.
But all of those cast-off mobile phones and televisions are worth, literally, a gold mine. There is 100 times more gold in a ton of used mobile phones than there is in a ton of gold ore, and it’s time to recapture it.
So now the UN is promoting a new circular economy plan to deal with what it calls a “tsunami” of e-waste, reducing the public health and environmental impacts in the developing world while creating economic opportunity. The UN launched its “A New Circular Vision for Electronics, Time for a Global Reboot” report Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The report was completed by PACE, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy.
“E-waste is worth at least $62.5 billion annually, which is more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries,” the 24-page report said. “In fact, if e-waste was a single nation, it’s GDP would be on a par with that of Kenya. Furthermore, 123 countries have less GDP than the global pile of electronic waste. In the right hands, however, it could be worth considerably more.”
The report calls for a total rethink of raw material sourcing, value chain management, recycling – in short, everything tied to the tech product inputs as well as the end-of-life recapture because just 20 percent of e-waste is currently recycled. The UN vision emphasizes the need to clean up informal and inefficient recycling operations in the developing world, while boosting climate goals too: That’s because it creates less carbon emissions to reclaim materials from existing products than to mine for new materials.
To see the entire report, check this link.