UN: $52 Billion in Recyclable Metals Discarded in E-Waste Last Year

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The United Nations (UN) recently put out a listing of countries and regions dubiously leading in the generation of electronic or e-waste.

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E-waste, for this discussion, includes electronic and electrical equipment. Everything from printers and computers to discarded cell phones, calculators and other personal electronics was counted by the UN. Even vacuum cleaners, toasters, electric shavers, video cameras were included in the total as all were dependent on being plugged into a wall.

We’re Number One! (Sorry)

India found itself in the 5th spot, having discarded 1.7 million metric tons of electronic and electrical equipment in 2014. The US (7.1 million mt) followed by China (6 million mt) topped the “Global E-Waste Monitor 2014,” report compiled by the United Nations University (UNU). Together, these two were responsible for about 32% of global e-waste.

Regionally, most e-waste in the world last year was generated in Asia at 16 million mt. The top three Asian nations with the highest e-waste generation in absolute quantities were China with the aforementioned 6 million mt,  Japan with 2.2 million mt and India with its 1.7 million mt contribution.

No guesses, but the lowest amount of e-waste per inhabitant was generated in Africa at 1.9 million mt. Africa is a fairly low-tech continent where computers and the internet still have not penetrated everyday life as in other places. If you can say that’s a “benefit” of life there, at all, it would certainly be most beneficial in a study of e-waste.

The report has warned that the volume of e-waste was expected to rise 21% to 50 million mt by 2018.

E-Waste and You: A Breakdown

Some of the items that made it to the e-waste list:

  • 7% of mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, printers, and small information technology equipment
  • 60%  a mix of large and small equipment such as vacuum cleaners, toasters, electric shavers, video cameras, washing machines, electric stoves, mobile phones, calculators and personal computers.

What Metals Are We Wasting?

But here’s the even bigger story, something that brought a wry smile on the faces of our MetalMiner top honchos, The total e-waste generated in 2014 contained about:

  • 16.5 million mt of iron
  • 1.9 million mt of copper
  • 300 mt of gold (equal to 11% of the world’s total 2013 gold production), silver, aluminum, palladium, plastic and other resources with a combined estimated value of $52 billion

The price estimate of the discarded materials; including gold, silver, iron and copper  according to the report is, that’s right, some $52 billion. The gold itself was valued at about $11.2 billion. Some researchers, according to the UN report, felt that in many cases, it made sense to recover metals. Gee, ya think? Please go to your local scrapyard first before you discard that old stove or computer and remember that there’s a small amount of gold in every old cell phone you to toss into a landfill.

The co-author, Sohrab Darabshaw, contributes an Indian perspective on industrial metals markets to MetalMiner.

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