Recycling: From E-Waste to Resources

Abstract:Issued at a meeting of Basel Convention and other world chemical authorities prior to UNEP's Governing Council meeting in Bali, Indonesia, this report used data from 11 representative developing countries to estimate current and future e-waste generation -- which includes old and dilapidated desk and laptop computers, printers, mobile phones, pagers, digital photo and music devices, refrigerators, toys and televisions. In South Africa and China for example, the report predicts that by 2020 e-waste from old computers will have jumped by 200 to 400 percent from 2007 levels, and by 500% in India. By that same year in China, e-waste from discarded mobile phones will be about 7 times higher than 2007 levels and, in India, 18 times higher. By 2020, e-waste from televisions will be 1.5 to 2 times higher in China and India while in India e-waste from discarded refrigerators will double or triple. The report cites a variety of sources to illustrate growth of the e-waste problem:

  • Global e-waste generation is growing by about 40 million tons a year
  • Manufacturing mobile phones and personal computers consumes 3 per cent of the gold and silver mined worldwide each year; 13 per cent of the palladium and 15 per cent of cobalt
  • Modern electronics contain up to 60 different elements -- many valuable, some hazardous, and some both
  • Carbon dioxide emissions from the mining and production of copper and precious and rare metals used in electrical and electronic equipment are estimated at over 23 million tonnes -- 0.1 percent of global emissions (not including emissions linked to steel, nickel or aluminum, nor those linked to manufacturing the devices)
  • In the US, more than 150 million mobiles and pagers were sold in 2008, up from 90 million five years before
  • Globally, more than 1 billion mobile phones were sold in 2007, up from 896 million in 2006
  • Countries like Senegal and Uganda can expect e-waste flows from PCs alone to increase 4 to 8-fold by 2020.
  • Given the infrastructure expense and technology skills required to create proper facilities for efficient and environmentally sound metal recovery, the report suggests facilitating exports of critical e-scrap fractions like circuit boards or batteries from smaller countries to OECD-level, certified end-processors.
The report recommends countries establish e-waste management centers of excellence, building on existing organizations working in the area of recycling and waste management.

URL: http://www.unep.org/pdf/Recycling_From_e-waste_to_resources.pdf

Source: United Nations Environment Programme & United Nations University

Resource Type: Article/report

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