A new United Nations report says that at least $ 10 billion in gold, platinum and other precious metals is thrown every year into a growing mountain of electronic waste polluting our planet.

According to the United Nations' global e-waste monitoring report, 54 million tons of "e-waste" accumulated around the world in 2019, an increase of 21% in 5 years.

The report mentioned by the Guardian newspaper stated that the number 2019 equals 7.3 kilograms for every man, woman and child on the face of the earth, even though the use is concentrated in the richer countries.

He added that the amount of e-waste is increasing 3 times faster than the world's population, and that 17% of this e-waste is recycled in 2019.

The report pointed out that electronic and electrical goods, from phones and computers to refrigerators and boilers, have become necessary in modern societies and beautify life, but often contain toxic chemicals, and that increased production and waste are harmful to human health and the environment and exacerbate the climate crisis.

The report blames the lack of regulation and the short life of products that are difficult or impossible to repair, and continued that people in northern Europe produced the largest amount of electronic waste, estimated at 22.4 kilograms per person in 2019, and half of this amount was in Eastern Europe.

A man excavates a pile of waste in search of copper and other minerals from discarded electronic waste in Manila (Reuters)

Various minerals

In Australia and New Zealand, waste was 21.3 kg per person, while in the United States and Canada it was 20.9 kg and 2.5 kg per person, respectively.

The report indicates that e-waste contains materials such as copper, iron, gold, silver and platinum, and is estimated to be worth $ 57 billion, but most of it is wasted or burned instead of being collected for recycling.

Precious metals in waste are estimated at $ 14 billion, yet only $ 4 billion is saved from them.

Europe recorded the highest recycling rate in 2019, reaching 42%, followed by Asia in second place with 12%, but in North and South America and Oceania the rate was 9% and in Africa 0.9%.

The report said that some e-waste in low and middle-income countries is recycled, but usually unsafe methods, such as burning electronic circuit boards to extract copper, and this releases highly toxic minerals such as mercury, lead and cadmium "which cause severe health effects on workers and children who live and play near E-waste activities. "

The amount of mercury in screens, energy-saving lamps and other electronic waste disposed of is estimated at 50 tons per year, and gases from discarded refrigerators and air conditioners were equivalent to 98 tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2019.

"E-waste is a very big problem, because the amount is growing at a rapid pace every year and the level of recycling is not keeping pace with it," said the report's author, Bagdaldi - from the United Nations University in Bonn. "It is important to set a price for pollution because at the present time it is simply free."

Wei Man sculpted in London, a recycled waste giant in 2005, representing the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment left by an ordinary British person in his lifetime (Getty Images)

New economy

"The big problem is that in many countries there are no assembly systems, and companies that enter equipment into the market are not accountable for the end of their operating life," says Megik Hertog of the International Telecommunication Union at the United Nations, but added that the value of the cast metal represented an opportunity.

"If the collection and recycling are better organized, my economies of scale (i.e. the cost advantages that companies get due to the size of their business) will rise, and I think there will be opportunities to create a new economy and new jobs. And there will be a lot of income for many people. And the recycling will also decrease," Baldi agreed. The environmental impact of drilling for a new metal: a single gram of gold has a huge footprint. "

"The wrong recycling of e-waste is a major emerging threat, which silently affects our health and the health of future generations," said Maria Nera of the World Health Organization.

She added that one in every 4 child deaths is caused by pollution, including e-waste.

"The ever-growing mountain of e-waste documented in this report represents a global scandal that can be completely prevented," the newspaper concluded with what Libby Beck of the Green Alliance Research Center said.

"The situation should not be this way. Products can be designed to last and be repaired, and equally important can be improved. Ensuring that the system maintains electronic product circulation will create hundreds of thousands of jobs ... There is no excuse for leaving this scandal unaddressed."