More and more people are joining the global information society and digital economy, and are benefiting from the opportunities they offer. In parallel, higher levels of disposable incomes, urbanization, and industrialization in many developing countries are leading to growing amounts of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and, consequently, to greater amounts of e-waste.
A record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste – discarded products with a battery or plug such as computers and mobile phones – is reported generated worldwide in 2019, up 9.2 Mt in five years. Toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, brominated flame-retardants (BFR), or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are found in many types of electronic equipment and pose a severe risk to human health and the environment if not handled in an environmentally sound manner.
The new report also predicts global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030, almost double the 2014 figure, fuelled by higher electric and electronic consumption rates, shorter lifecycles, and limited repair options.
In 2019, only 17.4 percent of e-waste was officially documented as formally collected and recycled. In 2018, the highest policy-making body of the ITU, the Plenipotentiary Conference, established a target to increase the global e-waste recycling rate to 30 percent by 2023. The formal collection and recycling rate would have to increase at a much faster pace in order to hit that target.
The number of countries that have adopted a national e-waste policy, legislation, or regulation has increased from 61 to 78 between 2014 and 2019. In many regions, however, regulatory advances are slow, enforcement is low, and the collection and proper e-waste management is poor.
Enforcing rules remains a challenge in many regions, as do other aspects, such as the lack of proper collection and logistics infrastructure, limited awareness of consumers on the hazards of improper disposal of e-waste, the lack of standards for the collection, dismantling of e-waste, and treatment of it, and an inefficient and tedious reporting process.