The world generated 41.8 millions metric tons of e-waste last year—another new record, according to a new report from the United Nations University, an academic and research arm of the United Nations.
E-waste, or electronic waste, is the term used for discarded electronic or electrical devices like old cell phones or TVs.
The U.N. group predicts the world will continue breaking new records for both overall and per-capita e-waste through at least 2018.
"The collection and state-of-the-art treatment of e-waste is limited, and most nations are still without … e-waste management systems," the report says.
The good news is that the growth rate of e-waste per capita continues to slow. Per-person waste climbed 3.5 percent to 5.9 kilograms per inhabitant (kg/inh.) in 2014, up from 5.7 kg/inh. in 2013. It's expected to rise just 3.3 percent to 6.1 kg/inh. in 2015.
The world's largest per-capita e-waster is Norway , at 28.3 kg/inh.. They are followed by Switzerland at 26.3 kg/inh., and Iceland at 26.0 kg/inh. Asia had the largest overall volume by continent at 16 metric tons but averaged just 3.7 kilograms of waste per capita. The U.S. generated 22.1 kg/inh.
Here are the maps:
Recycled e-waste often proves valuable — the report says last year's volumes contained $52 billion worth of metals. But the waste also contains significant quantities of toxins.
The report counted 2.2 metric tons of lead glass and 0.3 metric tons of batteries, as well as mercury, cadmium, chromium and chlorofluorocarbons. Reports have documented how the e-waste disposal stream has created serious health problems in e-waste dumping grounds like Guiyu, China, where residents have elevated levels of lead in their blood; and Agbogbloshie, Ghana, where cancer rates among young men are abnormally high. The report says rising electronics sales and shortening life cycles of new products mean overall waste volumes will continue to rise.
“Worldwide, e-waste constitutes a valuable ‘urban mine’ — a large potential reservoir of recyclable materials. At the same time, the hazardous content of e-waste constitutes a ‘toxic mine’ that must be managed with extreme care,” UN Under-Secretary-General David Malone, Rector of UNU said.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.