The world generates close to 50 million tonnes of e-waste annually as consumers and businesses throw out their old smartphones, computers
Only a small percentage of the refuse, which contains valuable and reusable materials such as metals and rare earth elements vital for electronic equipment, is ever recycled.
The United Nations, the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, one of the wealthy and powerful gathered in Davos this week, also launched the first global call for action to cancel what is the fastest growing waste flow on the planet.
“That is needed because if things don’t change by 2050 we will have 120 million tonnes annually of e-waste,” Ruediger Kuehr, programme director at United Nations University and an expert in e-waste, told AFP.
“That is not too far away from today. It will have an effect on the resource accessibility and it is impacting the lives of many, many folks, particularly in developing nations.”
Only 20 percent of electronics are currently recycled, with countless tonnes end up in landfills, wrongly mixed with metal waste, or agreeing to poorer states for a fee.
As plastic waste has become a hot-button problem in the last couple of decades, organisers of the telephone for a”worldwide reboot” on e-waste hope authorities, consumers and businesses will explore methods of reusing or repurposing electronic equipment to restrict the environmental fallout.
Kuehr said better collection networks of e-waste would have a substantial effect, as would technology users properly disposing of the gadgets, rather than stuffing them in cabinets and drawers when a new generation comes out.
The ordinary smartphone comprises up to 60 elements, largely metals, which are precious in the electronics sector due to their high conductivity and clarity.
Yet there is 100 times more gold, for example, at a tonne of mobile phones than in an tonne of gold ore — it is only a case of producing enough demand for recycled materials, based on Kuehr.
“If recyclers are tasked with recycling near to 100% of substances in electronic equipment they will do their very best to do so,” he said.
“At the moment they do not because there is no demand for it — source prices do allow for mining at the floor. Technologically it is possible to recycle virtually all (metals in computers and phones ) but it’s not economically feasible yet and we need economies of scale”
As well as old-generation laptops and phones, regions of e-waste are increasing as society becomes increasingly electrified: toys, medical equipment, furniture and many automotive parts today contain some digital material that may be vaporized and harvested.
E-waste also has a significant influence on health: although it represents only 2 percent of waste in landfill, it accounts for as many as 70% of the hazardous material there.
Developing nations like Nigeria and Pakistan export e-waste for a fee, and an informal economy has grown up as individuals comb through shipments for things to market — potentially exposing them to danger.
“We’re sending our extra equipment to developing countries in order to produce a little bit of money from it and we see a great deal of ecological and health consequences from it,” explained Kuehr.