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 Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community 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.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid