E-waste Recycling in Decline 

Global electronic waste (e-waste) is generated five times faster than it is being recycled, the UN’s fourth Global E-waste Monitor (GEM) has found. A record 62 million tonnes (Mt) of e-waste was produced in 2022, up 82% from 2010. E-waste includes any discarded product with a plug or battery, and is widely considered as a health and environmental hazard. It typically contains toxic additives and substances such as mercury, which can damage the human brain and coordination system. Less than a quarter (22.3%) of the e-waste mass was documented as having been properly collected and recycled in 2022, leaving US$62 billion worth of recoverable natural resources unaccounted for and increasing pollution risks to communities worldwide. To make matters worse, the report foresaw a drop in the documented collection and recycling rate from 22.3% in 2022 to a projected 20% by 2030, due to a widening difference in recycling efforts relative to the staggering growth of e-waste generation worldwide. Challenges contributing to the widening gap include technological progress, higher consumption, limited repair options, shorter product life cycles, society’s growing electronification, design shortcomings, and inadequate e-waste management infrastructure. The report highlighted that if countries could bring e-waste collection and recycling rates to 60% by 2030, the benefits – including minimising human health  risks – would exceed costs by more than US$38 billion. The GEM also noted that the world “remains stunningly dependent” on a few countries for rare earth elements, despite their unique properties being crucial for future technologies such as renewable energy generation and e-mobility. 

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