UN Report Finds up to 90% of World’s Electronic Waste is Disposed Illegally

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A New Report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has found that up to 90% of the world’s electronic waste, valued at nearly US$19 billion, is illegally traded, dumped or disposed each year.

The Report – Waste Crimes, Waste Risks: Gaps and Challenges in the Waste Sector – estimates that the electronic industry is responsible for generating up to 41 million tonnes of WEEE each year, including items like computers, smart phones and white goods.  The Report also suggests that 60-90% of this waste is illegally traded or dumped.

The International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) estimates the price of a tonne of e-waste at around US $500, or £320 per tonne, which puts the value of illegally managed e-waste between US $12.5 billion and US $18.8 billion each year.

WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), or e-waste, is one of the world’s largest and fastest growing waste streams, which many forecasting there could be 50 million tonnes produced each year by 2017.

Of the Report, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner said: “We are witnessing an unprecedented amount of electronic waste rolling out over the world.  Not only does it account for a large portion of the world’s non-recycled ‘waste mountain’, but it also poses a growing threat to human health and the environment, due to the hazardous elements it contains.”

Currently, Europe and North America are the largest producers of e-waste, although Asia’s cities are rapidly catching up, and on a wider global scale we are continuing to see significant increases in this waste stream year on year.  As part the Report UNEP has made a number of recommendations to tackle this growing issue, including:

  • Strengthening awareness, monitoring and information by mapping of scale, routes and state of hazardous waste, and possible involvement of organised crime.
  • Strengthening awareness in the enforcement chain, and of prosecutors, of the risks of fraud, tax fraud and money laundering through the waste sector.
  • Strengthening national legislation and enforcement capacities.
  • Promoting prevention measures and synergies, such as facilitate the proper return of illegal waste shipments and at cost to shipper.
  • Proceeding with a technical assessment of quantities and qualities of abandoned containers, particularly in Asia, and of dumping of hazardous waste worldwide.
  • Further improve binding agreements on classification of waste.

The full UNEP report can be found here

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