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article imageMinerals in e-waste discarded in 2016 were worth $65 billion

By Karen Graham     Dec 13, 2017 in Technology
E-waste, which includes anything with a plug or a battery is the topic of a new United Nations-backed study published Wednesday. A staggering 44.7 million metric tons (Mt) was generated globally in 2016 — up 3.3 Mt or eight percent from 2014.
Phys.Org is reporting the 44.7 million metric tons is the equivalent of 4.500 Eiffel Towers, or1.23 million fully loaded 18-wheel 40-ton trucks, according to the report from the UN's International Telecommunication Union, the UN University (UNU) and the International Solid Waste Association.
Now bear in mind this pile of e-waste includes refrigerators, televisions, solar panels, mobile phones, and computers, to name just a few of the many plug-ins or battery-operated devices we use. The report also points out that the total of the e-waste included a million tons of chargers alone.
Experts foresee a further 17 percent increase — to 52.2 million metric tons of e-waste by 2021, — the fastest growing part of the world's domestic waste stream. However, the report also points out a disturbing statistic - Only 20 percent or one-fifth of all that e-waste generated in 016 was recycled.
Billions of dollars in waste being thrown out
Digital Journal has kept up with the latest innovations in the recycling of many different types of waste. Ontario, Canada-based Pyrowave, uses a patented technology involving Catalytic Microwave Depolymerization (CMD) to recycle polystyrene scrap.
Another group called Green Circle targets hair salons in Canada and the U.S., helping to make their carbon footprints smaller. Green Circle claims their program can divert 70 to 90 percent of waste the salons produce from going to the landfill. Their hope is to make the salons and spas that are part of the program 100 percent sustainable by 2020.
Eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world's oceans annually  the "New Plastics ...
Eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world's oceans annually, the "New Plastics Economy" report said
, Hong Kong Cleanup/AFP
One of the biggest waste problems next to e-waste is landfills. Digital Journal outlined a study earlier this year that proposed using landfill waste to produce energy which will generate fewer greenhouse gases than simply letting the waste decompose. The study highlighted the great opportunities for startups.
The whole point in mentioning the recycling of these three different types of waste is to show that things that are thrown into landfills do have an additional value, regardless of whether it is hair, plastics or food.
What about the value of e-waste?
Remember, only 20 percent of the e-waste accumulated in 2016 was recycled. Would it surprise you to know the estimated value of recoverable materials in last year's e-waste was $64.6 billion (55 billion euros), which is more than the 2016 Gross Domestic Product of most countries in the world?
Greek households recycle only 16 percent of their waste  well short of the European average and nowh...
Greek households recycle only 16 percent of their waste, well short of the European average and nowhere near EU targets
Eleftherios ELIS, AFP
We are talking about the rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium, lithium, cobalt, and other high-value recoverable materials in much of the e-waste being discarded, quite often, in an improper manner, in dumpsites or in incinerators, according to the report.
"E-waste management is an urgent issue in today's digitally dependent world, where the use of electronic devices is ever increasing," ITU chief Houlin Zhao said in a statement. But there is a positive note on this issue. A growing number of countries are adopting e-waste policies.
Today, 66 percent of the global population, in 67 countries, live under e-waste policies, up from 44 percent in 2014. This is good news, especially as electronic and electrical devices are seeing falling prices globally, allowing, even more, people to afford them.
Have you ever wondered where the cobalt in your Smartphone comes from? More often than not  from the...
Have you ever wondered where the cobalt in your Smartphone comes from? More often than not, from the Congo, with children as young as seven years old doing the mining.
University of California at Berkeley
But at the same, time, companies are shortening replacement cycles for mobile phones and other devices, resulting in an increase in e-waste globally. ITU's e-waste technical expert Vanessa Gray suggested that technology companies should consider the e-waste impact of constantly pushing out new versions of products.
Bottom line? We are throwing away billions of dollars worth of valuable minerals and other materials that could be recycled for further use in electronic devices, storage batteries, and many other products. And while a few startup companies around the world are taking advantage of the technologies available to extract minerals from e-waste, itis obvious more will need to be done.
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