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The e-waste problem

Background - 23 May, 2005
The amount of electronic products discarded globally has skyrocketed recently, with 20-50 million tonnes generated every year. If such a huge figure is hard to imagine, think of it like this - if the estimated amount of e-waste generated every year would be put into containers on a train it would go once around the world!

Close up of a huge pile of computer keyboards waiting to be scrapped. These are likely to have been thrown away in Europe, US or Japan and then dumped in China because it is cheaper to dump this hazardous waste in China than dispose of it properly.

Electronic waste (e-waste) now makes up five percent of all municipal solid waste worldwide, nearly the same amount as all plastic packaging, but it is much more hazardous. Not only developed countries generate e-waste; Asia discards an estimated 12 million tonnes each year.

E-waste is now the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream because people are upgrading their mobile phones, computers, televisions, audio equipment and printers more frequently than ever before. Mobile phones and computers are causing the biggest problem because they are replaced most often. In Europe e-waste is increasing at three to five percent a year, almost three times faster than the total waste stream. Developing countries are also expected to triple their e-waste production over the next five years.


Did you know?

  • The average lifespan of computers in developed countries has dropped from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005.

  • Mobile phones have a lifecycle of less than two years in developed countries.

  • 183 million computers were sold worldwide in 2004 - 11.6 percent more than in 2003.

  • 674 million mobile phones were sold worldwide in 2004 - 30 percent more than in 2003.

  • By 2010, there will be 716 million new computers in use. Therewill be 178 million new computer users in China, 80 million new usersin India.