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Tracking the global generation and exports of e-waste: do existing estimates add up?

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date5/08/2014
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Journal number15
Volume48
Number of pages9
Pages8735-8743
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The transport of discarded electronic and electrical appliances (e-waste) to developing regions has received considerable attention, but it is difficult to assess the significance of this issue without a quantitative understanding of the amounts involved. The main objective of this study is to track the global transport of e-wastes by compiling and constraining existing estimates of the amount of e-waste generated domestically in each country MGEN, exported from countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) MEXP, and imported in countries outside of the OECD MIMP. Reference year is 2005 and all estimates are given with an uncertainty range. Estimates of MGEN obtained by apportioning a global total of ∼35,000 kt (range 20,000-50,000 kt) based on a nation's gross domestic product agree well with independent estimates of MGEN for individual countries. Import estimates MIMP to the countries believed to be the major recipients of e-waste exports from the OECD globally (China, India, and five West African countries) suggests that ∼5,000 kt (3,600 kt-7,300 kt) may have been imported annually to these non-OECD countries alone, which represents ∼23% (17%-34%) of the amounts of e-waste generated domestically within the OECD. MEXP for each OECD country is then estimated by applying this fraction of 23% to its MGEN. By allocating each country's MGEN, MIMP, MEXP and MNET = MGEN + MIMP - MEXP, we can map the global generation and flows of e-waste from OECD to non-OECD countries. While significant uncertainties remain, we note that estimated import into seven non-OECD countries alone are often at the higher end of estimates of exports from OECD countries.