A report estimates that 5.3 billion mobile phones worldwide will be discarded this year

This year is the fifth International Electronic Waste Day. Based in Brussels, Belgium, the Electronic and Electrical Equipment Waste Forum released a report predicting that 5.3 billion of the 16 billion mobile phones held by the world will be discarded or unused this year.

If the average thickness of mobile phones is 9 mm, the stacking height of these discarded mobile phones is about 50,000 kilometers, which is 120 times the height of the orbit of the International Space Station and one-eighth of the distance between the earth and the moon.

Despite containing valuable gold, copper, silver, palladium and other recyclable components, almost all of these discarded mobile phones are hoarded, dumped, or incinerated, causing significant damage to health and the environment. According to the 2020 Global E-Waste Monitor report, discarded mobile phones are just the tip of the iceberg of the 44.48 million tons of unrecycled e-waste generated globally each year.

According to a survey conducted in six European countries from June to September 2022, many of the 5 billion discarded mobile phones are hoarded and left behind in drawers, cupboards, or garages, rather than sending them in for repair or recycling.

The report found that the average European household currently hoards up to 5kg of electronic devices per person. Of the 8,775 households surveyed, 46% cited potential future use as the main reason for hoarding electronic devices, another 15% hoarded electronic devices to sell or give away, and 13% for "feelings" value".

This month, the European Parliament passed a new law requiring USB-C to be the single charger standard for all new smartphones, tablets, and cameras starting in late 2024. The move is expected to save at least 200 million euros per year and reduce over a thousand metric tons of EU e-waste each year.

According to Kees Balde, a senior scientific expert at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), legislation in Europe has led to an increase in e-waste collection rates in the region compared to the rest of the world, "in Europe, 50-55% of e-waste is collected or recycled. In low-income countries, we estimate this figure to be below 5%, sometimes even below 1%.”

At the same time, thousands of tonnes of e-waste are shipped each year from rich countries, including EU member states, to developing countries, increasing their recycling burden. And recipients often lack the financial means to safely dispose of e-waste: Hazardous substances such as mercury and plastic can contaminate soil, contaminate water and enter the food chain, as happened near an e-waste dump in Ghana.

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