From flat-screen TVs to cellular phones, humans generated 53.6 million metric tons (MMT) of electronic waste last year, almost 2 MMT more than the previous year. Only 17% of the waste was recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills, incinerated or just unaccounted for, Fermin Koop wrote for ZME Science on July 3, 2020.

Electronic and electrical goods such as computers, refrigerators, and kettles have gradually become indispensable in modern societies, making lives easier in many ways. But they can also have toxic chemicals, and a growing production of waste is damaging the environment and human health.

The figures for last year, reported by the Global E-Waste Monitor of the United Nations (UN), are equivalent to 7.3 kilos of electronic waste for every man, woman and child on Earth, though the use is concentrated in wealthier countries. The amount of e-waste is growing three times faster than the world’s population. Citizens of Northern European countries produced the most e-waste last year, 22.4 kilos per person.

The amount was half that seen in eastern Europe. Australians and New Zealanders also ranked high with 21.3 kilos per person, while in the US and Canada the figure was 20.9 kilos. The report also found that among the discarded plastic and silicon there were large amounts of precious metals such as copper and gold, used to conduct electricity on circuit boards. A sixth of it was recycled but the remainder wasn’t, accounting for $57 billion in metals.