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Heavier than the Great Wall of China: the weight of e-waste on the planet is growing steadily

The weight of old electrical and electronic components, which will be sent to landfill in 2021, will exceed 57 million tons. This is more than the weight of the Great Wall of China, the heaviest man-made object on the planet. The edition told in more detail with the BBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

This assessment was given by an international group of experts that deals with the problem of recycling of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

They note that the value of these materials is enormous.

According to a 2019 World Economic Forum report, the global value of e-waste is $ 62,5 billion - more than the GDP of most countries.

“There is 100 times more gold in a ton of mobile phones than in a ton of gold ore,” said Rüdiger Kuer, Director of the UN Sustainable Development Program.

This waste includes mobile phones, refrigerators, kettles, televisions, electronic toys and sports equipment.

Accumulation of gadgets

Globally, the amount of e-waste is increasing by two million tons annually. At the same time, less than 20% is collected and processed.

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By producing products with a short service life and limited repair capabilities, manufacturers contribute to increased waste, says Pascal Leroy, head of the WEEE Forum expert group.

“For example, the explosive development of cellular equipment and other mobile gadgets has made the market dependent on the rapid replacement of old devices,” he said.

Consumers are also reluctant to dispose of personal electronic equipment. A 2019 study by the British Royal Society of Chemistry found that there are about 40 million unused gadgets in British homes. This negatively affects the supply of many valuable and rare items.

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Chemicals in smartphones that may dry up in the next century:

  • gallium: used in medical thermometers, LEDs, solar panels, telescopes; may have anti-cancer properties;
  • arsenic: used in fireworks and as a wood preservative;
  • silver: used in mirrors, photochromic lenses, antibacterial clothing, and touchscreen gloves;
  • indium: used in transistors, microchips, extinguishing systems, as a coating for cultivators in Formula 1 cars and solar panels;
  • Yttrium: Used in white LED lamps, camera lenses, and for the treatment of certain types of cancer;
  • Tantalum: Used in surgical implants, neon electrodes, turbine blades, rocket nozzles and nosecaps for supersonic aircraft, hearing aids and pacemakers.

“Consumers want to do the right thing, but they need to be adequately informed. For proper disposal of e-waste to become a social norm, people must be provided with an easily accessible and convenient infrastructure, ”says Pascal Leroy.

He noted that recycling electronics, rather than throwing them away, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, among other things.

“Each ton of recycled e-waste avoids about two tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions,” explained the WEEE Forum Expert Group Leader.

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