Rubbish recycling bin on Dublin street (Simon Roughneen)

Around 62 million tonnes of old or unwanted gadgets were thrown out in 2023, enough to circle the Earth in 40-tonne trucks packed full and parked bumper-to-bumper.

The volume of so-called e-waste, which includes mobile phones, TVs and vapes, is “rising five times faster than documented recycling,” according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

The amount recorded in 2023 was over 80% more than in 2010, according to the ITU and UNITAR, who define e-waste as any discarded product with a plug or battery.

“Billions of dollars worth of strategically valuable resources squandered, dumped. Just 1% of rare earth element demand is met by e-waste recycling,” they warned.

The items, which usually can be recycled in whole or in part, are typically a “health and environmental hazard” as they can contain “toxic additives or hazardous substances such as mercury, which can damage the human brain and coordination system.”

“We are currently wasting $91 billion in valuable metals due to insufficient e-waste recycling,” said the ITU’s Vanessa Gray,

E-waste also means the dumping of plastic, adding to the widely documented problem of plastic pollution, which in turn has prompted health warnings about microplastics and nanoplastics entering the food chain, usually from plastics ending up in bodies of water.

Countries in South-east Asia are increasingly the target for “high profit, low risk” illicit exporting of plastic and e-waste from Europe, according to an April 2 report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Basel Action Network, which monitors plastic pollution, said on March 28 it had uncovered a growing problem of e-waste being secretly shipped from the US to Malaysia.

In late 2023, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Forum (WEEE) estimated that around $10 billion worth of potentially reusable electronics and batteries are being thrown away each year.

Follow us on Twitter