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This year there will be more than 55 million tons of e-waste produced. The UN estimates that that will grow to more than 132 million tons by 2050. That’s bad, but there is an opportunity: recycling. One tone of e-waste contains 100 times more gold than what is found in one ton of gold ore.
Where does it all come from? Gartner estimates that in 2019 alone there will be 2.35 billion PCs, tablets and smartphones shipped.
why is it bad? Currently only about 20 percent of e-waste is being recycled. The remaining 80 percent typically will end up in landfill. It isn’t biodegradable and often contains toxic metals, like lead. These contaminants have been traced to birth defects and infant mortality.
Why is e-waste actually valuable? Because of all the elements contained in it. A smart phone typically contains about 60 elements, mostly metals. Those metals have important properties, like high conductivity. There are also rare earth materials used in the devices for batteries and camera lenses that can be expensive to mine and can only be found in a few places on earth.
Ruediger Kuehr, director of the e-waste program at the United Nations University (UNU) , said that e-waste “is a huge issue, considering how many resources go into the manufacturing of these machines. Every smartphone, every TV monitor, comes with an enormous ecological footprint. There needs to be substantially more done to tackle the e-waste issue. We have to seriously consider pushing repair, refurbishment and reuse, but this is so far unfortunately not on the political agenda.”