Developing countries face being buried in e-waste

India, China and a number of other countries will be overwhelmed by e-waste mountains in the next 10 years, according to a report from the United Nations.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that many developing countries face mountains of e-waste filled with desktop and laptop PCs, printers, mobile phones, fridges, TVs and toys.

UNEP warns that by 2020, this type of garbage will grow by 400 percent in South Africa and China from 2007 levels. In India, it will be even worse, with the figure slated to jump by 500 percent.

China produces 2.3 million tonnes domestically – that’s second only to the United States. China itself is a dumping ground for e-waste although it’s supposedly banned e-waste imports.

There’s a further problem in China, UNEP says, because the waste isn’t handled properly, burned to retrieve gold and causing toxic pollution.

UN under-secretary general Achim Steiner said: “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.

“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,” he said.

The report said that global e-waste is growing by around 40 million tons a year. PCs and mobile phones take three percent of the gold and silver mined worldwide every year, 13 percent of palladium and 15 percent of cobalt.

The UN’s message is that if the proper recycling techniques are adopted, there could be opportunities to capitalise from the mountains of electronic junk.