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Electronic waste a 'toxic mine,' says UN report

White goods made up the majority of electronic waste last year, according to the latest research from the United Nations University.

The report, titled “The Global E-waste Monitor 2014: Quantities, Flows and Resources,” found that electronic waste reached 41.8 million tonnes in 2014.

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60 per cent of the discarded items constituted kitchen, bathroom and laundry equipment, such as microwaves and old washing machines. Despite the influx of vast numbers of personal electronic devices that we used every day, including smartphones, tablets and printers, these made up just seven per cent of all e-waste last year.

Worryingly, however, just 16 per cent of the waste was placed into recycling or re-use schemes, highlighting how our growing dependence on electronic goods is having a detrimental effect on the environment. The problem is also likely to get worse, with the report predicting that the volume of e-waste will increase by 21 per cent to 50 million tonnes by 2018.

UN under-secretary-general David Malone, believes that e-waste is both a “valuable urban mine” and a “toxic mine” that has a wealth of useable resources, but which also must be managed very carefully

“The monitor provides a baseline for national policymakers, producers and the recycling industry, to plan take-back systems,” he said. “It can also facilitate cooperation around controlling illegal trade, supporting necessary technology development and transfer, and assisting international organizations, governments and research institutes in their efforts as they develop appropriate countermeasures. This will eventually lead to improved resource efficiency while reducing the environmental and health impacts of e-waste.”

In total, the waste produced in 2014 contained potentially harmful chemicals including lead glass, mercury, cadmium and thousands of tonnes of CFCs capable of degrading the Ozone layer.

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Although the US was the nation which contributed the most e-waste, European countries actually produced the most waste per citizen.