Each year, we throw out 42 million tons of electronic and electrical equipment – known as e-waste – the components of which are estimated to be worth $63 billion, according to a recent report by the United Nations University (UNU). Among the discarded resources are 300 tons of gold valued at $13 billion; 1,000 tons of silver worth $736 million; and 16 megatons of steel worth $12 billion.
UNU rector David Malone calls the waste both a valuable “urban mine” and a “toxic mine,” given the presence of potentially hazardous substances, such as mercury, lead and cadmium, commonly found in electronics.
Whichever mine you call it, e-waste is expected to grow exponentially as the world’s demand for technology rises and products’ life cycles shorten. As noted by one of the report’s researchers, “We should not simply try to stop consumption to minimize the amount of waste being generated, but should instead make sure that it is properly collected and recycled. There is an opportunity to create jobs and extract those resources currently being discarded.”