News / Asia

E-Waste Creates Economic, Environmental Problem for Developing Nations

Solenn Honorine

Societies are producing more and more electronic goods, and therefore more and more electronic waste, or e-waste. The United Nations' Environment Program has released a report that warns of a dangerous rise in the amount of such waste, which is often simply dumped in developing countries, posing health hazards to residents.
 
Every year the world produces 40 million tons of electronic waste: from TVs to refrigerators to cell phones and computers. And this figure will only increase.

For instance, by 2020, China is expected to throw away seven times more cell phones than now, and India 18 times more.

These high-technology goods not only are bulky, they often contain toxic materials such as lead and mercury. If the e-waste is not taken care of properly, it can cause pollution and health hazards.

The Basel Action Network is a private group focused on halting the trade in toxic goods, particularly waste goods. Executive director Jim Puckett says the world needs to take urgent measures to end toxic trash.

"The industry has built in obsolescence unfortunately, so we're seeing things become waste quicker than every before," Puckett said. "Computers now have a life span of about two years now in the North; many mobile phones are turned over within six months when somebody wants to newest model. So we are creating a mountain and we're not going to stop people from consuming. So the first thing we need to do is to get the toxic materials out of the equation".
 
The issue of e-waste is one of several topics being discussed this week at the United Nation Program for Environment's conference in Nusa Dua, Indonesia.

Achim Steiner, the agency's secretary-general, says much of the e-waste should be recycled. Beyond the environmental reasons, there is also an economic incentive, he says: for example, three percent of the gold and silver mined worldwide is used in personal computers and mobile phones.

"If you start investing and recycling and reusing these materials, you actually begin to look at turning a problem into an opportunity; you start creating jobs, you start reducing the amount of metals that leaves the cycle of our economy, you can reuse them," Steiner said. "So those are all advantages if you begin to manage electronic waste not as we see from industrialized countries to least developed countries without legislation. It is actually being dumped in the backyards of the slums of this world."
 
The Basel Convention is an international agreement setting global guidelines on handling e-waste. But it is not without weaknesses.

The United States, the single largest producer of e-waste, has never ratified the convention. Also, e-waste has become a highly profitable illegal trade. Some companies get rid of their trash by exporting it to poor countries where, instead of being treated or recycled, it piles up in landfills, and the toxic materials can leach out into water and soil.

"One example that happened in West Africa: they export obsolete cars, and they stuff the cars with obsolete computers hidden in the cars. So we have all those ingenious schemes to do it. And it is actually in that sense very comparable to arms smuggling, and drug smuggling because the incentives are financial and a huge business is to be found in this," said Katharina Kummer, the executive secretary of the Basel Convention.
 
The problem today is compounded by the growing complexity of the trade. E-waste used to be produced by developed nations and then dumped in poor countries. But today poor countries without recycling capacity export their e-waste to nations like China, and emerging economies are also increasingly net producers of e-waste: China for example has become the second larger producer after the United States.

Katharina Kummer says there remain limits to how much the traffic can be curbed.

"The responsibility of the countries is to adopt legislation and to enforce it," Kummer said. "The problem though is that it requires a huge amount of money, and even the highest developed countries, like the countries of the European Union, do not have the necessary resources to prevent all those illegal exports from happening. So you can imagine what it would look like for a poor country in Africa for example or a poor country from another part of the world".
 
Electronic waste is more than an economical problem. It also affects the health of millions of people who make a living by stripping out the waste dumped in their countries. Environmental experts say it will take new funds and manpower to solve the problem, by establishing safe recycling facilities and curbing illegal exports.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More