Emerging Trends | SDG12
June 21, 2018

Electronic waste is a growing challenge. What can you do to help?

By ITU News

Did you know that 45 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) were produced across the world in 2016?

That’s equivalent to nine Great Pyramids of Giza or 1.2 million fully loaded 18-wheel, 40-ton trucks lined up from New York to Bangkok and back.

And the amount of e-waste produced each year is growing.

That’s according to The Global E-waste Monitor, an annual report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations’ University (UNU), and the International Solid Waste Association that tracks the amounts of e-waste globally.

e-Waste consists of information and communication technology (ICT) devices such as computers, mobile phones, screens, wires and all items of electrical and electronic equipment or its parts that have been discarded without intent to reuse.

If you consider that most people in developed countries now own more than one ICT device — and that replacement cycles for mobile phones and computers, and also for other devices and equipment, are becoming shorter — the scale of the problem is expected to grow year over year.

So what can you do?

electronic waste is a growing challenge


As a simple solution to reduce e-waste, you can choose to buy used or ‘second-hand’ devices that have been refurbished instead of buying new.


When you are finally ready to throw away the equipment, be sure that it is taken to the appropriate recycling centre. There are many donation programmes or “buy back” schemes for old phones to raise funds for charities, and many retail stores will accept batteries for recycling.


The average life span for cell phones is estimated to be around 5 years according to the Consumer Technology Association, while many are replaced after just two years. You can choose to continue to use your device even after the newer version has been released. And don’t forget to repair broken screens or replace your batteries before you recycle your device.

Better e-waste data will lead to better management of e-waste

Only 41 countries have official e-waste statistics. For 16 other countries, e-waste quantities were gathered from research and estimated. The fate of a large majority of the e-waste (34.1 Mt) is simply unknown.

In countries where there is no national e-waste legislation in place, e-waste is likely treated as other or general waste. This is either land-filled or recycled, along with other metal or plastic wastes. There is the high risk that the pollutants are not taken care of properly, or they are taken care of by an informal sector and recycled without properly protecting the workers, while emitting the toxins contained in e-waste

Better e-waste data will contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in particular SDG12, to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production,’ but also other SDGs.

ICT devices are rich in valuable raw materials – copper, nickel, silver, gold, platinum, tantalum, indium, palladium and more. Better e-waste management will lead to better protection of the environment, more jobs for recyclers and will conserve natural resources, as raw materials can be mined more economically from e-waste rather than the ground.

How ITU supports sustainable e-waste management

e-Waste is a global challenge. e-Waste often crosses borders, and developing countries have shouldered the largest e-waste burden.

ITU supports the global sharing of e-waste statistics and assists countries in building policy and regulatory capacity to tackle e-waste.

ITU also develops voluntary technical standards that offer valuable support to e-waste regulation. These standards offer guidelines for sustainable e-waste management (e.g. ITU L.1021 and L.1030). They specify universal chargers for ICT devices that minimize energy consumption and e-waste (ITU L.1000 series). And they provide procedures to recycle rare-metal components of ICTs (ITU L.1100 series).

For more information download The Global E-waste Monitor.

Or Join the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership

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ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

Electronic waste is a growing challenge. What can you do to help?

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