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Where Does 50M Tons a Year of Toxic E-Waste Go?

Baher Kamal - Inter Press Service
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September 30, 2017

World's e-waste mountain proving a challenge (Al Jazeera English)

Each year, the electronics industry generates up to 41 million tons of e-waste, but as the number of consumers rises, and the lifespan of devices shrinks in response to demand for the newest and best, that figure could reach 50 million tons this year, according to specialized studies.

Of all these tons of noxious waste, a staggering 60-90 per cent of e-waste – worth nearly 19 billion dollars – is illegally traded or dumped, often with the involvement of transnational criminal gangs, a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) research had already warned a couple of years ago.

West Africa has been reported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to be a major destination for electronic waste, while some Asian countries are also recipients of millions of tons of these toxic materials, sometimes as part of so-called trade free agreements with Western countries.

Old computers and mobile phones, electric cables, televisions, coffee machines, fridges, old analogue radios are piling up in landfills across the world, UNEP explains.

According to the research, e-waste often contains hazardous materials, which pose risks to human health and the environment, especially in developing countries.

One of Fastest Growing Waste Streams

E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in developed as well as in developing countries, reports the Global Partnership on Waste Management.

Due to the fact that the life span of computers has dropped in developed countries from six years in 1997 to just two years in 2005, and mobile phones have a lifespan of even less than two years, the amount of generated e-waste per year grows rapidly, it adds.

“This has a major impact on developing countries as loopholes in the current {European Commission} Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directives allow the export of e-waste from developed to developing countries (70 per cent of the collected WEEE ends up in unreported and largely unknown destinations).”

Recycling, Re-Using, an Enormous Challenge

According to the Global Partnership on Waste Management, inappropriate methods like open burning, which are often used by the informal sector in developing countries to recover valuable materials, have heavy impacts on human health and the environment.

“Electronic goods are increasing exponentially in number, variety and complexity, and all of them include both valuable and hazardous materials,” said Keith Alverson, head of the UNEP-hosted International Environmental Technology Centre, which looks at ways to increase recycling and handle waste in a more sound manner.

“The challenge of re-using, recycling and properly disposing of electronic waste is already enormous, and will grow – be it in individual households, in the private sector or in countries around the world. We need to think carefully about, and implement solutions for, e-waste as we continue to benefit more and more from electronic goods and services.”

Read the rest at Inter Press Service

Related: Pan American Sanitary Conference Ends with Agreement on New Health Agenda for the Americas (Pan American Health Organization)

IPS is an international communication institution with a global news agency at its core, raising the voices of the South and civil society on issues of development, globalisation, human rights and the environment. Check out the website at

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