E-waste set to rocket, says UN

Developing countries are in danger of disappearing under a mountain of e-waste, according to UN experts.

 A report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicts that by 2020, e-waste from old computers will have risen by five times in India, and between two and four times in South Africa and China.

In China, e-waste from discarded mobile phones will be about seven times higher than 2007 levels and, in India, 18 times higher.

China already produces about 2.3 million tonnes domestically – second only to the US with about three million tonnes. And, despite having banned e-waste imports, China remains a major e-waste dumping ground for developed countries, says the report.

Most of this is badly handled, much of it incinerated by backyard recyclers to recover valuable metals like gold.

“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 UN Under-Secretary-General 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.”

The way forward, says the report, is to develop more efficient recycling facilities in these countries.

“In addition to curbing health problems, boosting developing country e-waste recycling rates can have the potential to generate decent employment, cut greenhouse gas emissions and recover a wide range of valuable metals including silver, gold, palladium, copper and indium – by acting now and planning forward many countries can turn an e-challenge into an e-opportunity,” added Steiner.