Issue Date: February 22, 2010
Growing Piles Of Toxic Trash
Many developing countries will face mountains of electronic waste in coming years unless they establish formal collection and recycling programs, the United Nations Environment Program says in a report released today. A lack of these programs is likely to lead to serious public health and environmental problems from improperly discarded and recycled domestic e-waste, UNEP says.
Many developing nations already face challenges from improperly handled e-waste imported from the industrialized world. But these problems are likely to mount because of zooming sales in the developing world of cell phones, televisions, and other electronic gadgets, the report finds.
For instance, the report finds that by 2020, the number of discarded computers in India is expected to jump seven-fold from 2007. In South Africa and China, the increase will be double to quadruple over the same time frame, UNEP says.
In many developing countries, workers in informal recycling operations strip valuable metals from old electronic devices by hand without protections from exposure to hazardous components. They burn coatings to get to the metals, a process that releases toxic pollutants. UNEP says these practices lead to much lower rates of recovering metals such as silver, gold, palladium, copper, and indium than do operations at state-of-the-art industrial recycling facilities.
China faces a particularly severe problem, according to UNEP. It will produce an estimated 2.3 million metric tons of e-waste in 2010, making it the second largest generator in the world behind the U.S., which will have about 3 million metric tons, according to UNEP. In addition, China continues to contend with e-waste shipped to it from industrialized countries.
"This report gives new urgency to establishing ambitious, formal, and regulated processes for collecting and managing e-waste via the setting up of large, efficient facilities in China," says Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.
"China is not alone in facing a serious challenge. India, Brazil, Mexico, and others may also face rising environmental damage and health problems if e-waste recycling is left to the vagaries of the informal sector," Steiner adds.
Globally, the generation of e-waste is growing by about 40 million metric tons per year, the report says.
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