In the News

Negative externalities: The growing mountain of electronic waste

Geoff Riley

26th December 2017

A new report from the United Nations highlights the enormous environmental impact of the fast-growing mountain of discarded electronic waste - a negative externality from consumption.

According to their latest Global E-waste Monitor, humanity generated 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste in 2016, which is equivalent to 6.1 kilograms per person.  In Britain, we throw away an average of 25kg of equipment each year with a recycling rate of less than fifty percent. The UK Government wants to reach a recycling target of 65% within the next two years.

The world's annual stockpile of electronic waste is about the same weight as 4,500 Eiffel Towers.

Globally, electronic waste contains $55bn of recoverable materials – yet only 1/5 is currently recycled.

Which policies might be most effective in controlling and reducing electronic waste? End of Life regulations for disposing of waste electronic products are already in place but perhaps a wider range of behavioural nudges are needed to remind people of the consequences of their actions. 2017 seemed to be the year when public tolerance for plastic pollution reached a tipping point - might 2018 be a similar year for our attitudes to electronic waste? 

Geoff Riley

Geoff Riley FRSA has been teaching Economics for over thirty years. He has over twenty years experience as Head of Economics at leading schools. He writes extensively and is a contributor and presenter on CPD conferences in the UK and overseas.

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