Photo: Flickr/Mosman Council
Electronics waste worldwide is rapidly growing. Photo: Flickr/Mosman Council

End-of-life electronics worldwide are expected to increase by 33 percent in just five years, reaching 65.5 million metric tons annually by 2017, according to a recent study (PDF) from Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative, a U.N.-backed alliance.

To put that startling figure in perspective, that much e-waste could fill a line of 40-ton trucks end to end on a highway straddling three-quarters of the equator.

While most of these used products are destined for disposal, gradually improving efforts in some regions are diverting some of it to recycling and reuse.

StEP graphically portrayed the escalating global e-waste problem in a first-of-its-kind online interactive map. Presenting comparable annual data from 184 countries, the map shows the estimated amount of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE — anything with a battery or a cord) put on the market and how much resulting e-waste is eventually generated.

By providing a better sense of anticipated e-waste quantities, the initiative is expected to help governments and companies plan e-waste management.

The map shows, for example, that almost 48.9 million metric tons of used electrical and electronic products were produced last year — an average of 43 pounds (comparable to eight red clay bricks) for each of the world’s 7 billion people.

“Although there is ample information about the negative environmental and health impacts of primitive e-waste recycling methods, the lack of comprehensive data has made it hard to grasp the full magnitude of the problem,” Ruediger Kuehr of the United Nations University, and executive secretary of the StEP Initiative, said in a news release.

“We believe that this constantly updated, map-linked database showing e-waste volume by country, together with legal texts, will help lead to better awareness and policy making at the public and private levels.”

The StEP e-waste world map database shows that in 2012, China and the United States topped the world’s totals in market volume of EEE and e-waste. China put the highest volume of EEE on the market in 2012 — 11.1 million tons, followed by the U.S. at 10 million tons.

However, the world’s two biggest economies were far apart when it came to the amount of annual e-waste per person. The U.S. was highest among major countries (and seventh overall), with each American responsible for an average 65.6 pounds of high-tech trash. That was almost six times higher than China’s per capita figure of 11.9 pounds.

For more information on e-waste around the world, check out the StEP E-Waste World Map.

Want to be part of the solution? Give used electronics a second life with Project Reboot.

By Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.