Electronic waste, the world produces too many: the risks to everyone’s health

Electronic waste, the world produces too many: the risks to everyone’s health and the environment

Electronic waste

The photograph of the Global e-waste monitor: 74 million tons of electronic waste expected by 2030. Action must be taken on planned obsolescence and short life cycles to focus on recovery

ROME – 53 million tons of electronic waste produced in 2019. The Global e-waste monitor is clear: the world produces too much waste of electrical and electronic equipment (or WEEE), 53.6 million tons in 2019. An amount sufficient to form a line 125 km long.

 According to the document, produced by the United Nations University, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Solid Waste Association, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program, only 17% of this waste was collected and recycled.

 This means that important quantities of gold, silver, copper, platinum have been lost instead of being treated for recycling: we are talking about 50 billion euros, a sum greater than the GDP of many countries.

The effects of environmental alterations on poor countries. According to a dossier made public last year by OXFAM, the survival of tens of millions of people around the world – especially in the countries of the underdevelopment area, in Africa, in particular – already depends on today and will depend more and more in the near future on the ability to adapt and resist the impact with the serious alterations of the environment of anthropogenic origin and with the change in the climate, the cause of increasingly extreme events, such as prolonged and very hard droughts, floods, cyclones, and hurricanes.

However, in the poorest countries on the planet each person, exposed to continuous risk, receives on average about $ 3 a year in aid to help secure themselves and their families from the loss of crops, livestock, and all those essential resources. on which its survival depends.

harmful environment to humans. Economic damage is the tip of the iceberg. In fact, it is the environment and certain categories of vulnerable people who are exposed to the harmful substances contained in WEEE that lose out every day. Mercury, for example, is capable of altering the neurological system following a long exposure.

The report also mentions the uncontrolled emission of carbon dioxide, resulting from the non-compliant recycling of refrigerators and air conditioners. About 98 million tons of CO2 were released into the environment in 2019 alone.

waste producers, Virtuous Europe in recycling. The document identifies Asia as the largest producer of electronic waste (25 million tons). The United States (13) and Europe (12) follow while Africa and Oceania are behind with 2.9 and 0.7 million tons. Europe holds the negative record of waste per capita because every European citizen produces 16 kilos of WEEE per year, but it is also the continent that collects and recycles the most (42.5%).

The enormous consumption of electronic products and the increasingly widespread digitalization raise important questions about the recovery and recycling of WEEE. According to the report, in fact, this trend will produce 74 million tons of waste in 2030, an unsustainable quantity for the environment and for mankind.

The main causes of this uncontrolled growth are three: the increase in the consumption of electronic devices, short life cycles, and planned obsolescence, which is the phenomenon that limits the life of the devices to a specific period.

78 countries have a WEEE management policy. Data is not available for the poorest countries. In the world there are 78 countries that have a national policy on the disposal of electronic waste, an increasing number compared to 2017 but still low and with countries located mainly in Europe. In the poorest areas of the world, there is no data on the recycling or recovery of electronic materials, and the report itself has some gaps in this regard.

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