The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014

The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014

By Carol Baroudi
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Global #ewaste monitoring applies consistent methodology for better results via @ArrowGlobal @carol_baroudi

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Electronics have been at the core of my career for decades. Seven years ago, I became aware of the very serious end-of-life issues related to electronics. Since then, despite growing awareness, regulation and commitment, the planet’s mountain of e-waste[1] continues to grow.

Historically, measuring e-waste on a global scale has been very difficult. So I am exuberant about the recent publication of The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014, created by the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability. For the first time, a consistent methodology has been applied around the globe, giving us strong quantitative data that can be used to help shape policy and solutions.

How much electronic waste was generated in 2014? The report says 41,800,000 metric tonnes. Imagine some 20,000,000 cars’ worth.

That equates to 5.9 kilograms (a little over 13 pounds) per inhabitant (assuming a global population of 7.1 billion people). According to the study, the amount of global e-waste is expected to grow annually by 4 to 5 percent. Not surprisingly, inhabitants of wealthier nations are generating more e-waste per person than people in less wealthy areas of the world.

Unlike carbon emissions and other environmental health indicators, most of the top 10 e-wasters are European countries. The list is a bit of a shock because most of the top e-wasters appear as leaders in broader green rankings (


Kilograms per Inhabitant











UK and Northern Ireland




United States of America




Hong Kong Special Administrative Area (China)


Compare that with places that are generating less than a kilogram per inhabitant and you quickly understand that the burden of mitigation lies among prosperous nations.

How e-waste is handled determines whether valuable commodities can be recovered or whether toxic sites are created. The report estimates that the gold content from e-waste in 2014 is roughly 300 tonnes, representing 11 percent of the global gold production from mines in 2013 (2,770 tonnes). But to actually reclaim that gold entails efficient collection and processing. We are far from having the adequate collection, let alone processing, to get back all of what we currently throw away. On the toxic side of the equation, the report points to potential health hazards from the heavy metals found in discarded electronics, including impaired mental development, lung damage, liver damage and kidney damage.

As the growing world population acquires more and more electronics, the demand for the precious materials critical to their creation should be incentive enough to mandate more responsible reclamation. Yet today, the study reports, only four out of seven world citizens are subject to any kind of national legislation.

I encourage you to take a look at the report and help drive awareness of the magnitude of the e-waste problem. Write to me with your suggestions on how we can better close the loop on electronics en route to a circular economy.


[1] The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014 defines e-waste as “all items of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts that have been discarded by its owner as waste without the intent of reuse.”