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War declared on world's growing e-waste crisis

by Patrick Galey



The world produces close to 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year as consumers and businesses throw out their old smartphones, computers and household appliances—matrial worth an estimated $62.5 billion (55 billion euros)

Weighing more than all commercial airliners ever built and worth more than most countries' GDP, electronic waste poses a growing economic and environmental threat, experts said Thursday, as they launched a global initiative to clean it up.


The world produces close to 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year as consumers and businesses throw out their old smartphones, computers and household appliances—material worth an estimated $62.5 billion (55 billion euros).

Only a small percentage of the refuse, which contains valuable and reusable materials such as metals and rare earth elements vital for electronics, is ever recycled.

The United Nations, the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, among the rich and powerful gathered in Davos this week, launched the first global call for action to counter what is the fastest growing waste stream on the planet.


"This is needed because if things don't change by 2050 we will have 120 million tonnes per year of e-waste," Ruediger Kuehr, programme director at United Nations University and an expert in e-waste, told AFP.

"That's not too far from today. It will have an impact on our resource availability and it's impacting the lives of many, many people, especially in developing countries."


Only 20 percent of electronics are currently recycled


Health impact

The average smartphone contains up to 60 elements, mainly metals, that are prized in the electronics industry for their high conductivity and clarity.

So-called rare earth materials used in batteries and camera lenses are increasingly expensive to mine and only exist in a handful of places on Earth.


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War declared on e-waste

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