Solving The Electronic Waste Problem: Report Predicts 33% Growth In E-Waste By 2017, With China and US Leading The Way

By Ajit Jha on December 16, 2013 12:47 PM EST

Electronic Waste
Electronic waste is a growing problem. A new report predicts that e-waste will grow globally by 33% in the next 5 years. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Electronic waste is a huge and growing problem, with no realistic solution in sight as of now. It is easy to purchase a glut of electronic products, from television and refrigerators to iPads and smart phones, but very few know what to do with old, unwanted products. About 3 million tons of e-waste was generated by Americans in 2007, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Of this, only 13.6 percent was recycled, the rest ended up in landfills or was shipped to developing nations to deal with

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According to a new report published by the UN-backed organization StEP (Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative"), by 2017 there will be a 33 percent global jump in e-waste. For some perspective, within 5 years, the total amount of discarded computers, monitors, refrigerators, TVs, e-toys, mobile phones and other electronic products could fill enough 40 ton trucks that they could form a line across three quarters of the equator.

The study has attempted to comprehensively study global e-waste problem for better planning and management of e-waste problem. The study depicts the magnitude of the problem through E-Waste World Map, the first of its kind, showing comparable annual data from 184 countries.

In 2012, an average of 15 pounds of e-waste was generated per person. When you account for the full population of the planet, the total used electrical and electronics products last year amounted to about 48.9 million metric tons. The growing e-waste is projected to grow to 65.4 million tons by 2017. That's equivalent in weight to 11 Great Pyramids of Giza or 200 Empire State Buildings.

The full magnitude of the problem was difficult to grasp because of the lack of comprehensive data, according to Ruediger Kuehr, of the UN University and Executive Secretary of the StEP Initiative in the UN University. However, the constantly updated database linked to e-waste volume by country will assist in better understanding of the problem and better policy making, according to Kuehr.  

In 2012, China and the U.S were the top two e-waste producers. Interestingly, while China led the way with 11.1 million tons of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE, including anything with a battery or a cord) produced, they ended up with 7.3 million tons of e-waste. The U.S. put 10 million tons of EEE on the market, and ended up generating 9.4 million tons of e-waste. Even more shocking are the individual waste numbers: average American produced six times more hi-tech trash than an average Chinese. Their figures were 65.7 pounds and 11.9 pounds respectively.

The study makes a number of recommendations including creation of trade codes for better tracking of used electronic products. The code will help to better identify whether products are being shipped for repairs and those to be trashed. The recommendation on open access to shipment level trade data will make it possible to analyze export flows. The accuracy of final destinations will be improved with greater reporting of re-export destinations. In addition, it is important to track flows over several years to identify trends, according to the report.   

Photo above courtesy of Shutterstock.

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