Countries should tap into the value of the world's giant heap of e-waste not only by recycling its rare metals, the ITU says, but also by embracing other elements of the so-called circular economy, such as refurbishing second-hand products.
"Only 20 percent [of e-waste] is going in the official collection and recycling schemes", Ruediger Kuehr, head of the UN University's Sustainable Cycles Programme, told Reuters.
The authors estimate that only 20% of all e-waste was recycled, despite it containing large quantities of reusable materials such as gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium. The amount of e-waste-defined as anything with a plug or a battery-rose by eight percent since 2014, the time of the last assessment.
Electronic waste is a big problem, and it's only getting worse.
A breakdown of e-waste by category.
Overall, e-waste was projected to climb to 52.2 million tonnes in 2021, the study said. Germany had the highest quantity of e-waste generated in Europe, while the average European inhabitant generated 16.6kg of electronic waste.
If companies retain ownership of devices and appliances, providing consumers with replacements when needed, they would have an incentive to properly collect and recycle them.
The study said rising incomes and falling prices for electronic items from solar panels to fridges were to blame for the 8 percent increase in e-waste, which sat at 41 million tons in 2014.
By 2016 in the United States, most people owned a phone; every second person owned a desktop computer; close to 25 per cent also owned an e-book reader. Today 66% of the world's people, living in 67 countries, are covered by national e-waste management laws (up from 44% in 61 countries in 2014), an increase caused mainly by India's adoption of legislation past year.
Notes the report: "Having a national e-waste management regime in place does not always correspond to enforcement and setting the measurable collection and recycling targets essential for effective policies".
Numbers from the report show that a growing number of countries have adopted e-waste legislation.
The fate of a full 76 per cent of all e-waste around the globe is unknown, the report found.
Small, large and temperature exchange equipment - such as refrigerators - contribute to 75% of global e-waste by weight and the report anticipates that these will be the areas of fastest growth.
This partnership aims to map recycling opportunities from e-waste, pollutants and e-waste related health effects, along with building national and regional capacities to help countries produce reliable and comparable e-waste statistics that can identify best practices of global e-waste management. Africa, for example, accounted for only about five percent of the total e-waste generated-roughly zero of which was recycled.