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New e-waste map shows the global toll of electronics

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StEP Initiative E-Waste WorldMap
StEP Initiative E-Waste WorldMap

All of our used electronics are here to stay — unfortunately, we haven't figured out what to do with them yet. A new interactive e-waste map, created by the UN partnership organization StEP Initiative, shows that the volume of our e-waste, or any disposed item with an electrical cord or battery, is growing. And the international challenge of exporting and recycling them isn't being sufficiently addressed.

According to data collected by the StEP Initiative, the annual world volume of end-of-life electronics is expected to jump one-third to 65.4 million tons by 2017. That's a 33 percent jump, in five years, of the refrigerators, TVs, mobile phones, computers, e-toys, and other electronics people around the world have used and discarded.

That's enough information to make your head spin, but this new map makes all that data easier to process. Click on a continent and a country and you'll see an overview of the country's e-waste statistics, as well as any rules it has to regulate the waste. In a statement, Ruediger Kuehr of United Nations University and executive secretary of the StEP Initiative said researchers hope the map will spur countries to handle their e-waste, in addition to raising awareness among the general public.

The U.S. produces 9.4 million tons of e-waste per year

Unfortunately, the stats show that the US isn't the picture of perfect e-waste management. We have the largest amount of total e-waste per year, coming in at 9.4 million tons. China comes in second with 7.3 million tons, but its number is surprisingly low when it comes to e-waste generated by an individual per year, with each citizen averaging 5.4kg of e-waste. Americans produce an average of 29.8kg each per year.

While some countries have instituted recycling plans to tackle their e-waste, others prefer to ship all of it away. A study funded by the EPA and released by MIT's Materials Systems Laboratory and the US National Center for Electronics Recycling looked at the collection and export of used electronics in 2010. There were a total of 258.2 million units collected in the US and of those, two-thirds were reused or recycled and 8.5 percent of the remaining units were exported. Believe it or not, that 8.5 percent is on the low end, and that's possibly due to restrictive trading regulations between nations.

This is a step in the right direction, if we believe that knowledge is power. There haven't been many studies in the past that look into e-waste management and transboundary movement, so this new map helps surface key facts — hopefully before we all drown in a sea of used cell phones.