UNITED NATIONS-The international community must do more to cope with the drastic rise in electronic waste that is making the world sicker and adding to environmental degradation, according to a UN study.

Last year electronic and electrical waste reached 50 million tonnes, more than the weight of all commercial airliners ever made, the report said, adding that the figure was expected to double by the middle of the century.  While a fraction of this waste is recycled, the vast majority ends up on landfill, and seven UN bodies have come together to call for a “global reboot” to tackle the growing problem.

The joint report, entitled, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot”, calls for a new vision for e-waste based on the “circular economy” concept, whereby a regenerative system can minimize waste and energy leakage.

“E-waste is a growing global challenge that poses a serious threat to the environment and human health worldwide”, Stephan Sicars, Director of the Department of Environment at the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), said. “To minimize this threat, UNIDO works with various UN agencies and other partners on a range of e-waste projects, all of which are underpinned by a circular economy approach”.

According to the report, a deliberative process must be instilled to change the system – one that collaborates with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises, academia, trade unions and civil society.

“Thousands of tonnes of e-waste is disposed of by the world’s poorest workers in the worst of conditions, putting their health and lives at risk”, Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), maintained. “We need better e-waste strategies and green standards as well as closer collaboration between governments, employers and unions to make the circular economy work for both people and planet.”

Despite growing e-waste, “A New Circular Vision” points to the importance of technologies from the so-called Internet of Things – a network of devices that contain electronics and the connectivity that allows them to exchange data – through to cloud computing advances, which can all result in smarter recycling and tracking of e-waste.

“A circular economy brings with it tremendous environmental and economic benefits for us all”, Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UN Environment). “Our planet’s survival will depend on how well we retain the value of products within the system by extending their life.”

The report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes International Labour Organization (ILO); International Telecommunication Union (ITU); United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment); United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); United Nations University (UNU) and Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions.