Worldwide Electronic Waste Worth $52 Billion

About 4 billion people in the world are covered by legislation on electronic waste, but not all coverage is comprehensive and enforced.

By: Andrew V. Pestano, UPI

The amount of electronic waste generated in 2014 equals to about $52 billion -- about 60 percent of which consists of kitchen, bathroom and laundry appliances.

Only about 16 percent of discarded electronics were properly recycled or re-used, according to the report by the United Nations University.

The amount of electronic waste, or e-waste, generated in 2014 contained an estimated 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, 300 tons of gold -- equal to 11 percent of the world's total 2013 gold production -- combined to an estimated value of $52 billion, including silver, aluminum and other resources.

"Worldwide, e-waste constitutes a valuable 'urban mine' -- a large potential reservoir of recyclable materials. At the same time, the hazardous content of e-waste constitutes a 'toxic mine' that must be managed with extreme care," United Nations Under-Secretary-General David Malone, Rector of United Nations University, said.

Of the 41.8 million tons, or megatons, of e-waste thrown away in 2014, about 60 percent include:

  • 12.8 megatons of small equipment (vacuum cleaners, microwaves, toasters, electric shavers, video cameras, etc.)
  • 11.8 megatons of large equipment (washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves, photovoltaic panels, etc.)
  • 7.0 megatons of cooling and freezing equipment (temperature exchange equipment)
  • 6.3 megatons of screens
  • 3.0 megatons of small IT (mobile phones, pocket calculators, personal computers, printers, etc.)
  • 1.0 megatons of lamps

"The 41.8 megatons weight of last year's e-waste is comparable to that of 1.15 million 40-ton 18-wheel trucks -- enough to form a line of trucks 23,000 kilometers long, or the distance from New York to Tokyo and back," the report states.

The United States discarded the most waste with 7,072 kilotons, followed by China with 6,032 kilotons and Japan with 2,200 kilotons. About 4 billion people in the world are covered by national legislation on e-waste, although laws do not cover the full range of e-waste and not all laws are enforced.

"While the U.S. and China produce the most e-waste overall (32 percent of the world's total), the top per capita producers by far are the wealthy nations of northern and western Europe, the top five being Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, and the U.K.," the report states.

North America generated 7.9 megatons of e-waste, Central America generated 1.1 megatons and South America 2.7 megatons. Most of the world's e-waste was generated in Asia, with 16 megatons or about 3.7 kilograms per occupant.

The lowest amount of e-waste was generated in Oceania with 0.6. megatons, but inhabitants generate as much as Europeans with 15.2 kilograms and 15.6 kilograms per person, respectively.

Africa had a total of 1.9 megatons of e-waste generated and the lowest per inhabitant with 1.7 kilograms per person.


To download a copy of the United Nations University Global E-waste Monitor, click here.