A UN report has revealed that 50 million tonnes of used electrical items go to waste every year, resulting in millions of dollars of lost value.
Titled ‘A New Circular Vision for Electronics’, the report was put together by the UN E-Waste Coalition and the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), an initiative set up in 2017 to facilitate the development of circular business models and projects.
The value of WEEE lost to the economy is vast – the report estimates the total value of global e-waste at more than $62.5 billion (€54.9bn), much of this stemming from the gold, platinum, cobalt and other precious resources used in the manufacture of electronics. Seven per cent of the world’s gold may currently be contained in e-waste.
The problem is set to get much bigger if current trends continue, with WEEE reaching a potential 120 million tonnes annually by 2050. However, the value in this so far under-acknowledged waste stream could provide the impetus governments and businesses need to make changes.
Suggested 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.