Discarded laptops, mobile phones and electronic goods are now the world’s fastest growing waste problem and must be tackled urgently, United Nations researchers have warned.
A new report found that amount of electronic junk has risen by eight percent in two years, with just 20 percent being recycled.
On average, each Briton throws away between 44lbs and 55lbs (20 and 25kg) of e-waste such as each year. Most of the refuse ends up in landfills, is incinerated or simply piles up unused in people’s home.
“This report shows that the amounts of e-waste continue to grow, while too little is recycled,” said Jakob Rhyner, Vice-Rector, United Nations University (UNU).
“Discarded equipment, such as phones, laptops, fridges, sensors, and TVs contain substances that pose considerable environmental and health risks, especially if treated inadequately.
“Most e-waste is not properly documented and not treated through appropriate recycling chains and methods.”
Electronic waste is defined as a device which is attached to a plug, and includes everything from electric toothbrushes to kettles, computers, printers, smartphones, washing machines and radios.
The new study from United Nations University found that 43 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2016, a rise of eight percent from 2014, the fastest growth of any type of refuse, and double the rate of plastic refuse. It is the equivalent in weight to almost nine Great Pyramids of Giza, or 4,500 Eiffel Towers.
The report authors estimate that more than £40 billion worth of recoverable materials is binned or mothballed every year.
“We live in a time of transition to a more digital world, where automation, sensors and artificial intelligence are transforming all the industries, our daily lives and our societies, “said Antonis Mavropoulos, President of the International Solid Waste Association who helped UN academics compile the report.
“E-waste is the most emblematic by-product of this transition and everything shows that it will continue to grow at unprecedented rates.”
The rise in waste has been driven by falling prices in electrical devices, coupled with companies encouraging customers to buy the latest version of their model at smaller intervals, and making old devices incompatible with new software.
The average smartphone life cycle in Britain is now under two years and there are = more mobile phone subscriptions and handsets (7.7 billion) globally than their are people on Earth (7.4 billion).
Experts foresee a further increase in e-waste of 17 per cent by 2121, with the amount of annual waste increasing globally to 51 million tons a year as the digital world continues to expand.
Prices have also been falling for many types of equipment such as computers, peripheral equipment, TVs, laptops and printers
The report calls for global efforts to better design of components in electrical and electronic equipment to facilitate reuse and recycling and the better recovery of precious metals.
“E-waste management is an urgent issue in today’s digitally dependent world, where use of electronic devices is ever increasing,” said Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union.