back to article UN warns of global e-waste wave as amount of gadgets dumped jumps 21% in 5 years

The United Nations is sounding the alarm on increasing levels of e-waste, with 2019 producing a record 53.6 million tonnes of the stuff: an increase of 21 per cent in just the past five years. A report from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), called Global E-waste Monitor 2020, attributed the jump to higher …

  1. Robert Grant Silver badge

    Someone's confused

    The Americas produce the third largest amount of waste (13.1Mt) and second largest amount per capita (13.3kg) whereas Oceania comes second with 16.1kg per capita.

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Re: Someone's confused

      I wonder how a corrected ranking would look if they separated South America from North America?

    2. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Someone's confused

      Not necessarily confused. The per capita figures may be correct, and the total depends on how many people are contributing at the given rate in each nation. We don't have the total for Oceania.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Someone's confused

        They do have two regions coming in second place though. Based on the figures, even if they meant that Oceania came in second place in total, the Americas can't come in second place per capita because Oceania's per capita is higher. The rankings per capita would have to be:

        1. Europe: 16.2 kg/person

        2. Oceania: 16.1 kg/person

        3. Americas: 13.3 kg/person

        4. Asia: Figure not present

        5. Africa: 2.5 kg/person

        If that's what they mean, they have some rewriting to do, especially as I'm betting Oceania didn't come in second place for total quantity of waste; their population is really small compared to every other included region.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Someone's confused

        Australia and New Zealand come under Oceania and they each have levels of waste that dwarf even USAian ones

  2. steviebuk Silver badge

    Blame...

    ...the fruit one called Apple. Making their phones and other kit as unrepairable as possible. And also fighting right to repair.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Blame...

      Apple is certainly to blame in part but so is every other manufacturer of E-goods, all of them want you to buy new replacements as often as possible, it's called capitalism, our current system relies on consumerism and obsolete goods in the shortest possible time that they can get away with.

      The IoT is currently being pushed so hard because it has the potential to be the 'next big thing' and requires everything to be replaced with 'Smart' versions of what you already have and that works.

      Pollution and ever growing piles/landfills of waste will not be solved until we find a better economic model and I am definitely not smart enough to come up with one that everyone would like.

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Blame...

        Agreed. But right to repair is a start. Allowing the likes of Apple and, for whatever reason CompTIA (yes they are fighting right to repair) to stop Right To Repair is the worst governments could do. But it's all about money and the clueless. If they convince the correct clueless senator to be with them, they'll manage to block it.

        I still can't work out why CompTIA are trying to block it considering their exam is about creating engineers. I'm now boycotting all CompTIA stuff since I heard that.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Blame...

        "Apple is certainly to blame in part but so is every other manufacturer of E-goods, all of them want you to buy new replacements as often as possible, it's called capitalism, our current system relies on consumerism and obsolete goods in the shortest possible time that they can get away with."

        I see the TV manufacturers are now pushing 8K TVs. I did buy a 42" full HD TV some years ago because the "HD Ready" TV was to be moved into the bedroom. But I can't see a valid reason to upgrade to to 4K TV let alone 8K because a) an HD TV is easily good enough, b) even now there's still a huge amount of SD content, c) there's really very little 4K content available and d) what 8K content?

    2. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo

      Re: Blame...

      Agree, yet what speaks for Apple in this case is the longevity of their products in terms of the hardware.

      A friend of mine has a ~10 year old mac book, and he likes it still quite much.

      The no-name, no-support cheap brands are worse offenders, since they combine Apple's "Don't repair, get something shiny, new" with bad hardware.

    3. juice Silver badge

      Re: Blame...

      > Making their phones and other kit as unrepairable as possible. And also fighting right to repair.

      It'd be nice if things were as simple as Apple being an evil corporation intent on maximising profits at all costs. And I have no doubt that at least part of the problem stems from Apple wanting to protect their revenue streams.

      But at the same time, things aren't that simple.

      First, there's the point that if something breaks under warranty, the manufacturer is under an obligation to repair or replace. So it's in their interest to juggle the bill of materials until they end up with something which means that $high_percentage of the devices will last until the warranty expires.

      Admittedly, there's various other aspects to that calculation, as there's always natural wastage (broken/lost/resold) along the way, and some people will just shrug and buy a new device if the old one fails, rather than going through the hassle of getting it returned/replaced.

      But we're a long way from when (not-yet-sir) Clive Sinclair used to punt electronic devices with components pushed to - or beyond - their tolerances, and factored a high return rate into his business plan. These days, we expect things to Just Work when we buy them, and it's a lot easier to kick up a fuss if they don't.

      Then too, technology keeps getting smaller and more integrated. E.g. compare the ifixit teardowns of the iPhone 3G versus the iPhone 11.

      https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iPhone+3G+Teardown/600

      https://www.ifixit.com/News/33016/iphone-11-teardown

      And part of the reason for that is because the people want their devices to be lighter. But also faster. But also with better battery life. But that also don't overheat. But which are also waterproof. But are also rugged. But but but...

      It's increasingly impossible to produce devices which are user-serviceable, on top of all the other demands as per above. And even then, you'd need specialist tools for many things, given how physically small so much technology is these days, especially when it comes to soldering/unsoldering.

      So yeah. It's easy to point a finger at Apple. But mostly, the decline in user-serviceability is being driven by the increased complexity and integration of the components within all the devices we use - you can also flag things like cars and TVs in much the same way.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Blame...

        The argument that 'people want' is not strictly true; much of the time they are fairly happy with what they have got if it performs well and is value for money in the eyes of the owner.

        Where the thinner, lighter, faster comes in is the constant drive to sell more product by introducing new kit, it's marketing.

        So, although Apple's expensive kit is good value for money, they will still push the public to buy buy more and more new kit by planned obsolescence thereby consigning older kit to the tip.

        Marketing hasn't really changed since detergent ads on TV in the fifties, every year, a new, improved formula will be rolled out that washes whiter than the competition, phones, cars, TVs and everything else is still soldvthe same way.

    4. idiottaxpayerhere previously ishtiaq/theghostdeejay

      Re: Blame...

      @steviebuk

      Didn't take long for someone to blame Apple did it?

      Another one who can't afford to buy one

      Cheers… Ishy

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Blame...

      Well, if batteries were easy to replace in Apple gear, a LOT of this wouldn't be a problem...

      Also, in San Diego County we have a functional recycling program. In general it pays for itself. And the amount of recoverable rare metals from ground up electronics can be significant. Even lithium, from batteries, is a semi-rare element. But a bit more convenience would be nice [if I could toss an old phone into the 'blue can' for example]. Still, the last "bring your old electronics here" event at a local high school got several boxes from me. Boneyard cleanout, yeah.

      When recycling is done right, it's a) convenient as hell, b) at least breaks even on the sale of recyclable materials. Do those two things, and the problem should solve itself.

  3. jason 7 Silver badge

    So start legislation...

    ...to make this junk last more than 13 months? Oh and also make it easier to repair.

    I really don't mind paying a bit more if I know I'll definitely get 5 years+ out of an IT item.

    Laser printers? Make the fuser unit easy to replace and not charge 90% of the cost of a whole new printer for a replacement unit.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: So start legislation...

      The fundamental problem is that to keep device prices as they are, churn is essential. Otherwise the revenue dries up.

      In the days of mainframes, we leased hardware and paid for maintenance and support. That both provided a continuous revenue stream and allowed the hardware to remain in service for decades, but if you're paying once off to own, either the price has to be very high or the lifespan short. We've chosen the latter option, so there's inevitably a stream of waste, and because technological advances lead to obsolescence recycling has limited potential.

      Humans are very good at cornering themselves.

    2. Peter X

      Re: So start legislation...

      ^ this.

      Also re printers, mandate that they use open-standards for their interfacing. It prolly isn't so bad now, but I was miffed a few years back when I had to replace an old Canon LBP simply because it was a "Win-Printer" dating from ~2000 and absolutely would not work with anything other than Win9x or Win2K/XP. No MS-DOS, no Mac and certainly no Linux. And no way to resolve this... I'd spent waaaay too much time naffing around with VMs to keep it going as long as I did!

      Also, routers. They should be user-flashable, and again, document stuff so someone might stand a chance of creating an open-source firmware. And they should use standardised PSUs too... just for good measure.

    3. spold Silver badge

      Re: So start legislation...

      ...not to mention I can buy a new printer cheaper than getting a new toner cartridge, and that many printer manufacturers have toner cartridge chips that are just designed to interfere with using re-cycled or OEM cartridges.

  4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    You want to sort

    this problem.

    Make it law that any battery powered e-device can have its battery changed for a new one by its owner with the minimum of tools (eg a kitchen knife and a hammer),then enshrine right to repair into law too... you paid for the device, its yours to fix/repair/modify as you see fit, and make the manufacturer have to provide parts for the device for 10 yrs after it went out of production

    After all.. could you imagine a car market where you HAD to take your car to Ford for new tyres? , where you could'nt have a different exhaust fitted to the one Ford specify? and when the F150 went out of production you couldn't buy any spares for it?

    Sadly google and apple will quickly bribe sorry lobby for that sorta law to be squished ASAP

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: You want to sort

      The eu did propose this for bikes.

      Apparently millions of people were being killed by riders fitting go-faster parts and or somebody needed to protect BMW's margins

    2. quxinot Silver badge

      Re: You want to sort

      Actually we're getting there. John Deere has made their equipment unrepairable to the best of their ability. It isn't that the owner is unable to fix things, the owner is not allowed to get the specialized tools, parts diagram(s), nor the interface to reprogram the ECU on their equipment.

      I'd be shopping for pretty much anything else, nyself. And if my next car is this locked down, it will be getting an aftermarket ECU right away.

  5. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Require a 5 year guarantee

    If domestic appliances (white goods as well as phones/tablets/computers) were required to have a 5 year transferable guarantee then the amount of e waste would be drastically reduced. Manufacturers would be forced to use components with better margins to avoid premature failure. It would increase the purchase price but would probably drastically reduce the total outlay over a 10 year period.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Require a 5 year guarantee

      No they would simply up the price. Instead of a $100 land fill android that lasted 2 years you would pay $200 for the same phone, they would invest the extra 100e and give you a new phone when the first one broke.

  6. Snowy
    Flame

    How much of that waste

    Was devices that worked but where no longer support by the manufacturer?

  7. martinusher Silver badge

    The problem's in the software

    I still have a nice little Motion tablet that did sterling service for years until XP's Service Pack 3 did for it. It now barely runs the one application it's still used with. (The fact it can still run that application is that its not been upgraded for a decade or more -- doesn't need to, its just the front end for a box.) I have a couple of tablets and a phone or two that are going down the same route, unusuable not because they've stopped working but because successive software upgrades have made them unusable except for very specialized activities.

    People tell me that all this is necessary for security and user experience enhancement. This is true up to a point but it doesn't explain the runaway code bloat, the reckless use of memory and storage and a general attitude 'grab what you can like there's no tomorrow' to system resources. I think its a self perpetuating cycle that once stopped will cause people to question what and why and may cause the industry to go into recession. My needs for computing and other devices haven't changed much for years; the only thing that changes are the needs of advertisers and content providers and their DRM. (I also happen to think -- to know -- that vulnerabilities and bug probabilities increase with the size of a code base so you can't tell me that doubling the size of an application is making it more secure -- far from it. You don't fix vulnerabilities by making things so turgid that nobody can find their way out of the maze.)

  8. tcmonkey

    Recycling not a panacea

    Here in South Aus we have an organization that provides e-waste recycling bins at everybody's favorite DIY store. I used to know the man who ran it, nice chap, he was all about the re-use side of things. And that's the thing, for every device that gets "recycled" we only reclaim the smallest amount of useful material, especially when it comes to the rarer metals. It's far better in the long run to squeeze every last drop of useful life out of our electronics before committing them to the grave. I also got some stonking good bargains this way back in the day. Dual socket Xeon workstations that are only 3 years old for scrap value, anyone?

    Of course, my mate doesn't run that business anymore, and now all the bins have signs that say "DO NOT TAKE ITEMS" on them. Shame. I suppose protecting the few cents worth of scrap value is more important than actually enabling people to make a positive change to the environment.

  9. harmjschoonhoven
    FAIL

    Elephants in the room

    Don't forget LED-lamps. The LEDs may have an average lifetime of 20+ khour, but the mini-powerconverter in the socket will fail much sooner. Leading to e-waste with rare-earth metals that will not be recycled.

    Then there is the holy cow, the automobile - or how do you call them in you local dialect. The are not (yet) chockfull of e-waste, but the amount of Fe, Al and plastics when they are scrapped must be impressive. Add to that the problem of recycling Li-batteries.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Elephants in the room

      "Add to that the problem of recycling Li-batteries."

      Those are like lead-acid batteries - about 98% recyclable - and ex-automitive ones are proving to have strong second lives in stationary applications.

      You're fixating on the wrong parts of the vehicle there

      1. tcmonkey

        Re: Elephants in the room

        You say that, but at one time I was hearing (admittedly unsubstantiated) rumours that they were being ground up and burnt, even in parts of the world that really ought to know better.

  10. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Fashion

    Far too many items are now being replaced because of fashion. What? You mean you don't have an iPhone XXX? Oh you are soooooooo last month daahhling! This is less of a problem with PCs and such but then they tend to have a much longer lifespan and servers even longer than that. The first step should be to require manufacturers to design so as to enable repair, reuse, and recycling, but that will only work if WE buy these products. Unfortunately we would rather buy the cheaper higher spec item that has a lower lifespan and we justify it because we only have $$$ and can't afford the $$$$$ product and WE WANTS IT NOW! So, I believe that the blame is 100% ours. If you really want tech items that enable RRR, then buy items that enable RRR. If you buy items that don't enable it, then don't come whinging next year when you realise that you can't replace the battery in your fashion accessory because the rest of use are just going to laugh and point at the stupid monkey.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Fashion

      I wonder if, because of who the readership are, we are looking at the wrong part of "e-waste"? It seems these days that most kids toys are cheap plastic electronic items these days. They are not built to last because kids grow out of them quickly and so go often go in the bin or for recycling within a year or so. They often can't be re-used or re-purposed by average families because they kids broke them at some point.

  11. Mark192 Bronze badge

    The UK's solution - drastic but works

    As income increases so inevitably does electronic waste.

    The UK government are tackling this by taking the drastic steps needed to reduce, and perhaps even reverse, the growth of the UK economy.

    1. TimMaher Bronze badge

      Re: The UK's solution - drastic but works

      Nice one @Mark.

      Have you been reading “The Cockroach” by any chance?

  12. G2

    right to repair not allowed => e-waste

    this crap is caused by the copyright maximalism culture coupled with planned obsolescence by design and lack of right to repair legislation to provide mandatory schematics and other diagnostic info.

    https://repair.eu/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Npd_xDuNi9k

  13. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    "The fate of 82.6 per cent.....is uncertain,..."

    I'll have 50 quid on "chucked in a big hole somewhere" please.

    1. Fading Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Or...

      My spare room - still have 486 DX2 and AMD 64 3200+ tower systems in there, a drawer full of old mobile phones, some 8 bit computers (Amstrad and C64) plus CRT monitors.

      (Icon because there are a fair few old and dirty keyboards as well)

      I suspect I am not the only one hoarding old kit.

      1. 0laf Silver badge

        Re: Or...

        Lol yeah I have a pile of Palm pdas I picked up cheap when they were going out of fashion. It was sad when the software (and serial connection) stopped being supprted. They were simple but they suited me.

      2. Boothy Silver badge

        Re: Or...

        Glances at the shelves above my desk.

        ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, long since retired, still in it's original box.

        A collection of phones, an S3, HTC Hero, T-Mobile MDA (aka HTC Hermes keyboard slider phone), and a box for my OnePlus 3 (still my current phone). Nearby a Nexus 7 tablet original box, tablet not inside as it's still in occasional use (custom ROM) from its Dock (which I also still have the original box for).

        A few PCs from the 2000s, although don't think I've got one earlier that my 2002 Athlon.

        I have an early gen Intel NUC, which has Ubuntu server running on it, for those times when I really need low level hardware access rather than a VM. I've also got a couple of working Amiga's as well, a A1200 (in it's original box, had since new) and an A4000, although these haven't been used for a while. I haven't even mentioned anything that's in the loft yet!

        Me a hoarder, nah ;-)

        My general view point is if it still works, I might find a use for it at some point. It only tends to go to recycling if its just no longer of use, simply doesn't work at all, and can't even be used as an ornament or for demo purposes.

        As an example, behind me on a table, my previous PC (an Intel i7 system built in 2012, which was only replaced last summer by a Ryzen 3800X) is currently being used as a test bench, and is at this moment running a full system restore test (from a drive image backup from my current main desktop PC). You can't call it a backup, if you haven't tested the restore process!

        (Going to be interesting to see how Windows 10 copes with booting up on a completely different motherboard, CPU, GFX card etc!).

      3. grumpy-old-person

        Re: Or...

        Old laptops and desktops can still be VERY useful using an appropriate Linux distribution installed.

        Hoarding old stuff which can be used by someone else with limited financial resources when their kit fails makes perfect sense to me (but I get mumbles from my wife from time to time!)

  14. karlkarl Silver badge

    So let me guess... Rather than passing a correct law to prevent the sale of locked down hardware and strict DRM they are...

    Going to pass an incorrect law which means people cannot own their own hardware and instead only rent it for a few years before having to deliver it back to the manufacturer (to be ethically recycled) or risk facing a fine.

    Seriously guys, stock pile "open" hardware whilst you still can!

  15. 0laf Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Shockaroony

    What a shock. A recent (ish) trend towards unupgradable, unrepairable devices with non-replaceable batteries results in an upswing in dumping of those devices.

    Whoda-thunk-it.

    Nothing will change without legislation, and the politicians have big business to please, and big business needs regular sales. Devices with built in obsolescence is the model now.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    tech waste vs appliance waste?

    At 16kg per person that would seem to be more electrical than electronic waste?

    Perhaps it is the short-service-life and electronics-dependent appliances that are making up the bulk of the waste. In the past year we have had to ditch a fridge (at least 10 years old) and oven (7 years old). When it comes to electronics, in the last 5+ years it has become increasingly pointless to buy new gear as the useful performance & capabilities haven't advanced much.

  17. idiottaxpayerhere previously ishtiaq/theghostdeejay

    This "report" is

    far too full of the word "estimates".

    It's a short way of saying "we have not got a clue so we are having a guess"

    I am only surprised that they have not managed to include the words "suggests" or "suggested"

    Cheers… Ishy

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