CNN: Electronic waste has grown to record levels. Here’s why that’s a huge problem

One of the hundreds of small shops for electronics in the narrow streets of an Accra neighborhood in Ghana. Here, broken electronics get dismantled and reused.

From old cellphones to broken refrigerators and discarded e-cigarettes, global electronic waste has reached record highs and is growing five times faster than rates of recycling – bringing a host of health, environmental and climate problems, according to new analysis.

The numbers are staggering. In 2022, the world generated 62 million metric tons of electronic waste, also known as “e-waste,” according to the United Nations Global E-waste Monitor released Wednesday.

To put that in perspective, this waste could fill more than 1.5 million 40-metric-ton trucks which, if placed bumper-to-bumper, could form a line long enough to wrap around the equator.

E-waste is the umbrella term for any discarded product that has a plug or a battery and often contains toxic and dangerous substances, such as mercury and lead.

As the world becomes ever more reliant on electronics — and increasing amounts are being sold in developing countries for the first time — this hazardous waste stream is booming.

Global e-waste in 2022 was up 82% compared to 2010, according to the report, and is on track to rise a further 32% to reach 82 million metric tons in 2030.

Recycling capacity is not keeping pace.

Less than a quarter of e-waste (22.3%) produced in 2022 was documented as collected and recycled, according to the report. Since 2010, the growth of e-waste has outpaced the growth of formal collection and recycling by a factor of almost five, the report calculated.

Most e-waste ends up in landfills or part of informal recycling systems where the risks of pollution and harmful health impacts are high.

Small electronic gadgets such as toys, vacuum cleaners and e-cigarettes had particularly low recycling rates at around 12%, despite making up roughly a third of all e-waste, the report found.

Recycling rates tended to be highest for heavier and bulkier equipment like air conditioning units and TV screens because of their size and associated health concerns.

Women in Cameroon clean the casings of television sets in Yaounde on September 14, 2022.
End-of-life mobile phones sold for parts and recycling in Old Fadama, Accra, Ghana, February 7, 2023.

As the gap between e-waste generation and recycling capacity continues to grow, “the recycling rate could actually drop over the next few years,” Vanessa Gray, an e-waste expert at the International Telecommunication Union and a report author, told CNN.

The report predicts collection and recycling rates will decrease to 20% in 2030.

Jim Puckett, the founder and executive director of the Basel Action Network, an e-waste watchdog group, called the report’s conclusions “dismal.”

The results reveal that manufacturers are showing “a lack of duty of care” by failing to take accountability for what happens to their products at their end of life, Puckett, who was not involved with the report, told CNN.


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