By Daniel T Cross on July 6, 2020
One of the lessons the current coronavirus pandemic has taught us is that we depend on electronic devices more than ever, not least during prolonged periods of self-isolation. Smartphones, laptops, television sets, e-readers, refrigerators, air-conditioners — they’ve all been supremely useful.
The trouble is what happens to them once they are replaced by newer models. The answer: millions of electronic devices end up in the trash heap each year, adding to the already acute problem of electronic waste. Last year alone a staggering 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste was generated globally, which was 21% more than just five years ago, according to a report by the United Nations.
Worse: the amount of discarded products with a battery or plug will reach 74 million tons by the end of the decade, which means that in just 16 years the rate of electronic waste will have doubled.
“This makes e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream, fueled mainly by higher consumption rates of electric and electronic equipment, short life cycles, and few options for repair,” observes the UN-affiliated Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report.
“This means that gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high-value, recoverable materials conservatively valued at $57 billion — a sum greater than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries — were mostly dumped or burned rather than being collected for treatment and reuse,” it adds.