An e-waste report from 2015 released by the United Nations University reports that global electronic waste has reached record high levels. 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was generated in 2014, fuelling concerns about the growing risks to public health, resource conservation and the environment.

With rapidly changing technologies and constant consumer demand for the latest devices, the rise in e-waste looks set to continue. Lowering the amount of electronics entering the waste stream and improving end of life handling are essential for building a more circular economy, where waste is reduced, resources are conserved and are fed back into the supply chain for new products. Buyers also have an important role to play by choosing products that are durable, repairable, less hazardous and are designed for safer recycling.

Until now, definitions of e-waste and methods used to evaluate it have varied between regions and made calculations of total volume difficult. The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014 – Quantities, Flows and Resources, aims to present “the first comprehensive assessment of e-waste volumes, their corresponding impacts and management status on a global scale” (UN report p 8).

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E-waste — a toxic waste stream where valuable finite resources are lost

Fifty million metric tonnes of e-waste is generated every year, equalling the weight of nearly 4,500 Eiffel towers. Much of it is incinerated or placed in landfill, causing pollution, human health hazards and the loss of valuable finite resources.

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E-waste – a rapidly escalating problem

Findings in the UNU report point to a clear, steady growth trend in e-waste, which is projected to continue at a rate of two million metric tonnes per year. This would mean almost 50 million metric tonnes by 2018.

Of total e-waste, approximately one quarter – or 9.3 million metric tonnes – is made up of personal digital devices such as computers, displays, smartphones and tablets and TVs. Household appliances as well as heating and cooling equipment account for the remainder.