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The UN declares war on the West's "tsunami" of electronic waste

Press release February 1, 2019

The millions of tons of electronic waste that the developed countries dump in other countries must be controlled, says the UN in a new report.

Landfill in Nigeria - e-waste PR
Nigeria is one of the countries where e-waste is illegally dumped. This image is taken near a landfill in Badagry Expy, Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Ayotunde Oguntoyinbo / Unsplash.

Electronics is the fastest growing waste source in the world. The UN has called it a 'tsunami of electronics scrap'.

In 2018, 48.5 million tons of electronics were discarded and ended up as waste, also known as electronic waste or e-waste. And only one-fifth was handled by official roads. The rest was dumped at landfills or handled under poor working conditions.

Europe and the United States alone account for almost half of the world's electronic waste.

This is the case in a new report from the UN with the support of a number of other organizations such as the World Economic Forum.

The system behind the production and consumption of electronics needs to be restarted and rethought, the report says.

Scrap is sent from developed countries to developing countries

In Namibia, around 6,00 kg of electronics are consumed yearly per inhabitant. Denmark is one of the countries where most electronics are thrown out. On average, every Dane account for 23.9 kg of electronic scrap each year. For comparison, each EU citizen throws out an average of 17.7 kg.

   > See more on e-waste in Namibia

And large amounts of electronic waste from the developed countries find their way to landfills in the world's developing countries.

A survey from 2018 made the UN University (UNU), showed that in 2015 and 2016, more than 60,000 tonnes of electronic scrap were illegally sent to Nigeria - mostly from European ports. This shows a survey from 2018 made by the UN University (UNU). And it is not only in the West African country that the waste is a problem.

Every year, 1.3 million tonnes of discharged electronics are exported out of the EU by unofficial roads. The UN report describes the illegal trade in electronic waste from the rich countries to developing countries as 'a global challenge'.

Electronic waste can be sent to developing countries that follow the Basel convention - NamiGreen, an e-waste recycling company in Namibia, Africa accepts electronic waste from European and US companies. 

Harmful substances pose a risk to workers

In Nigeria, the Government, together with the Global Environmental Fund and the UN Environment Program, is investing around EUR 2 million to boost the official recycling industry in the country. EUR 11 million is also invested from the private sector. And that can be good news for those who today work unofficially with electronic waste in the West African country. Better conditions usually mean a lower health risk when the electronics are to be processed.

Nigeria is not the only country where people unofficially work with electronic waste. In China alone, 600,000 people carry out the potentially dangerous work.

Professor Thomas Fruergaard Astrup from the Technical University of Denmark, at the Department of Environmental Engineering, has previously commented on about the problems of illegal trade in waste.

- If one burns cables to get metals, for example, dioxins can be released. Dioxins are a group of potentially very carcinogenic (cancerous) substances. They can be released to the atmosphere during the burn or be inhaled by people who burn the wires, says Thomas Fruergaard Astrup.

Prof. Astrup also explained how environmentally harmful substances can end up in the groundwater, and greenhouse gases can be released into the atmosphere, whose waste is not properly handled.

A circular economy is the way forward

In the UN report, several suggestions are put forward on how to tackle the challenge of the large amounts of electronic waste. A central concept in the report is circular economy.

By this is meant that the material and resources must have the highest possible value in the longest possible time.

The possibility of designing the products to be more durable, giving consumers the opportunity to return products to the manufacturer and making the products easier to repair and recycle, will be pointed out.


Electronic waste

Fact box:

  • Electronics waste is all you can put in a power outlet or a battery.
  • It is estimated that 48.5 million tonnes of electronic scrap were thrown out in 2018. In the worst case, this figure can rise to over 120 million tonnes in 2050, if nothing changes.
  • Only 20 percent of the electronics waste in 2018 was handled properly.
  • By 2040, CO2 emissions from production and the use of electronics will amount to 14 percent of the total CO2 emissions.
  • Source: A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot

About NamiGreen E-waste

NamiGreen is a Namibian e-waste recycling company founded in 2018, after taking over an existing e-waste business dating back to 2015. NamiGreen has roots in Denmark as the founder of NamiGreen E-waste is from Denmark. NamiGreen recycles electronics waste from organisations, companies and households and works with all industries on the growing amounts of electronic waste. 



Electronic waste E-waste africa Electronic scrap Electronics Statistics Africa Scrap E-waste UN Namibia Nigeria

Landfill in Nigeria - e-waste PR
Nigeria is one of the countries where e-waste is illegally dumped. This image is taken near a landfill in Badagry Expy, Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Ayotunde Oguntoyinbo / Unsplash.
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