All that Flickers is Gold: The $62 Billion Opportunity of our Thrown-Away Electronics

24 Jan 2019

Fon Mathuros, Head of Media, World Economic Forum: Tel.: +41 (0)79 201 0211; Email:

· The value of electronic waste produced each year is $62 billion, three times the value of all silver produced each year.

· There is 100 times more gold in a tonne of mobile phones than in a tonne of gold ore

· The amount of waste created each year is expected to rise from close to 50 million tonnes today to 120 million tonnes by 2050

· To unlock growth while addressing this looming environmental health crisis, the Nigerian government, Global Environmental Facility and UN Environment are partnering with the private sector through the Forum’s Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) to kick off a circular e-waste system in Nigeria

· For more information, click here

Geneva, Switzerland, 24 January 2019 – The world is on the brink of a major health and environmental crisis, as the annual amount of electronic waste produced each year looks set to grow from close to 50 million tonnes today to 120 million tonnes by 2050. With only 20% of the electronics and plastics formally recycled each year, this looming health and environmental catastrophe also represents a unique $62 billion economic opportunity. This is the finding of a report, A New Circular Vision for Electronics, published today by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the UN-E-waste Coalition.The current volume of annual production, at almost 50 million tonnes, is more in weight terms than every commercial airliner ever built combined. It is also three times more valuable than the total output of the world’s silver mines.

To safeguard the environment, protect human health and deliver sustainable, inclusive growth, the Nigerian government, Global Environment Facility (GEF) and UN Environment have joined Dell, HP, Microsoft and Philips to launch a $15 million investment to create a formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The partnership is convened on the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy. Funding comprises a $2 million GEF investment, which will be leveraged for an additional $13 million private-sector co-financing. With 100,000 people estimated to be informally working in the e-waste sector in Nigeria alone, the investment will not only unlock economic growth, but also provide safe and decent employment for workers.

At a global level, seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development to better address the e-waste challenge. In the joint report, they call for a new vision for electronics based on the circular economy, and the need for collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to change the entire system.

The full set of infographics and more information can be found here.

Also today, a PACE report by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Accenture Strategy outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to unlock the value of e-waste – in the future, an “internet of materials” could lead to better product tracking, take-back and recycling. Another PACE partnership was launched at last year’s Annual Meeting. The Capital Equipment Coalition partnership published a report on what the nine companies in the group had learned in trying to take back and capture the value from materials in their products. Unlike consumer electronics, capital equipment comprises bigger, more expensive units sold to other companies, from MRIs to computer servers. Globally half of all metals go into producing capital equipment.

The initiatives are all part of the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), a public-private collaboration mechanism and project accelerator dedicated to bringing about the circular economy at speed and scale. It brings together a coalition of more than 50 leaders and is co-chaired by the heads of Royal Philips and the Global Environment Facility.

PACE is also focused on building a circular economy in the food system and transforming the plastics economy. A new landmark report released today by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation highlights the potential of a circular economy for food, which could generate $2.7 trillion in benefits annually for society and the environment, while averting an estimated 5 million deaths every year by 2050. The Global Plastics Action Partnership launched in September 2018 is advancing the first country partnership in Indonesia.

PACE was developed and hosted on the World Economic Forum platform in 2018. A new phase in its evolution is beginning as the World Resources Institute helps to scale-up the initiative and establish an action hub in the Hague, with assistance from the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, and several other public- and private-sector partners.

The view from the C-suite

Frans Van Houten, Chief Executive Officer of Royal Philips: “Over the past year, PACE has demonstrated measurable success in accelerating circular economy initiatives in all sectors of the economy, from healthcare to electronics, plastics, food and the bio-economy. PACE continues to grow and now comprises over 50 active CEOs, government ministers and NGO leaders from all over the world. In the coming months, the platform will further extend its activities, helping to deliver major environmental, societal and economic benefits. I invite leaders all over the world to join PACE and help promote scalable and replicable solutions for the circular economy. The time to reach global impact is now.”

“To achieve a world without waste, we must radically rethink our relationship with natural resources and key economic systems. We need to adopt a new way of doing business that brings together all actors along the supply chain, and across entire industries. PACE is starting to do just that,” said Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility. “The Nigerian electronic waste project will put this new way of thinking into practice and is an approach we hope other African countries will adopt.”

UN Environment Acting Executive Director Joyce Msuya: “A circular economy brings with it tremendous environmental and economic benefits for us all. UN Environment is proud to support this innovative partnership with the Government of Nigeria and the Global Environment Facility and support the country’s efforts to kickstart a circular electronics system. Our planet’s survival will depend on how well we retain the value of products within the system by extending their life.”

Antonia Gawel, Head, Circular Economy, World Economic Forum: “The circular economy offer incredible benefits, but it does require us to be less transactional with our resources, stewarding them through the economy rather than throwing them out after one use. The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers us the ability to rethink resource flows, while also providing better services to consumers. It’s time to unlock that innovation potential and partnerships like PACE will be vital for doing so.”

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All opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Economic Forum Blog is an independent and neutral platform dedicated to generating debate around the key topics that shape global, regional and industry agendas.

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