The UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) have issued a stark warning about the rapid growth in e-waste, which has outpaced how quickly we can recycle and safely dispose of unwanted products.

According to the 2024 Global E-waste Monitor (GEM) report, the world generates around 2.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste annually, a figure that’s expected to skyrocket to a staggering 82 million tonnes by 2030.

More alarmingly, documented recycling efforts only account for a fraction of the total waste produced, with an estimated five times more waste being created than recycled through officially recognized procedures. 

Our e-waste generation is about to blow up

Handling and recycling e-waste is a more complex issue than it may seem at first. While there are environmental benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gases and recovering valuable materials like gold, copper, and iron, the extraction processes can be extremely costly.

The UN report estimates the net annual economic cost of e-waste at $37 billion, with projected costs set to rise to $40 billion by the end of the decade if the industry fails to make substantial improvements to management and policies.

There’s also a geographical disparity when it comes to e-waste, says the UN. According to the figures, Europe leads the way with a recycling rate of 42.8% – a comparably positive sum, but one that still leaves a lot of room for improvement. However, Africa is way behind with a recycling rate of only 0.7%.

With such a long way to go, the report calls for urgent action to improve current recycling processes and systems globally to address rising rates of electronic waste, hoping that the industry can make some substantial sustainability gains.

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