24 Jan 2019 Press release Chemicals & waste

UN report: Time to seize opportunity, tackle challenge of e-waste

  • The world produces as much as 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) a year, weighing more than all of the commercial airliners ever made. Only 20% of this is formally recycled.
  • The e-waste produced annually is worth over $62.5 billion, more than the GDP of most countries. There is 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore.
  • UN agencies have come together with the World Economic Forum, the Global Environment Facility and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system.
  • The Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility and UN Environment have announced a $15-million initiative to kick off a circular e-waste system in Nigeria.

Davos, Switzerland, 24 January 2019: Global e-waste production is on track to reach 120 million tonnes per year by 2050 if current trends continue, according to a report from the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the UN E-Waste Coalition released at Davos today.

The report reveals the annual value of global e-waste as over $62.5 billion, more than the GDP of most countries. More than 44 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste was produced globally in 2017 – over six kilograms for every person on the planet. This is equivalent in weight to all the commercial aircraft ever built.

Less than 20% of e-waste is formally recycled, with 80% either ending up in landfill or being informally recycled – much of it by hand in developing countries, exposing workers to hazardous and carcinogenic substances such as mercury, lead and cadmium. E-waste in landfill contaminates soil and groundwater, putting food supply systems and water sources at risk.

According to the report, in addition to health and pollution impacts, improper management of e-waste is resulting in a significant loss of scarce and valuable raw materials, such as gold, platinum, cobalt and rare earth elements. As much as 7% of the world’s gold may currently be contained in e-waste, with 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore.

In the report, members of PACE and the UN E-Waste Coalition, including UN Environment, the Global Environment Facility, the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, emphasising the need for a circular economy in which resources are not extracted, used and discarded, but valued and reused in ways that minimise environmental impacts and create decent, sustainable jobs.

Solutions include durable product design, buy-back and return systems for used electronics, ‘urban mining’ to extract metals and minerals from e-waste, and the ‘dematerialisation’ of electronics by replacing outright device ownership with rental and leasing models in order to maximise product reuse and recycling opportunities.

To help address the e-waste challenge, and grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility and UN Environment announced a $2-million investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment is expected to leverage over $13 million in additional co-financing from the private sector. 

According to the International Labour Organization, up to 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector in Nigeria. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in the 500,000 tonnes of e-waste disposed of in Nigeria annually.

“A circular economy brings with it tremendous environmental and economic benefits for us all,” UN Environment Acting Executive Director Joyce Msuya said.

“UN Environment is proud to support this innovative partnership with the Government of Nigeria and the Global Environment Facility and support the country’s efforts to kick start a circular electronics system. Our planet’s survival will depend on how well we retain the value of products within the system by extending their life.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

Download the ‘A New Circular Vision for Global Electronics’ report here.

About the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE)
PACE is a public-private collaboration mechanism and project accelerator dedicated to bringing about the circular economy at speed and scale. It brings together a coalition of more than 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations and is co-chaired by the heads of UN Environment, the Global Environment Facility and Royal Philips. It is hosted by the World Economic Forum.

About the UN E-Waste Coalition
The UN E-waste coalition is a group of seven UN agencies who have come together to increase collaboration, build partnerships and more efficiently provide support to Member States to address the e-waste challenge. The coalition includes: International Labour Organization (ILO); International Telecommunication Union (ITU); UN Environment; United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); United Nations University (UNU), and the  Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm conventions. It is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).

For more information, contact:

Shari Nijman, Communication Officer, UN Environment News and Media Unit