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UN calls to tackle $19bn e-waste ‘tsunami’



The UN has expressed grave concerns over the ‘tsunami’ of dumped computers and smartphones that is expected to reach 50m tonnes by 2017.

PCs, smartphones and tablets are being illegally dumped in developing countries, with the ‘mountain’ of waste growing year by year. Sites where old devices are being dumped release toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil, posing significant health threats to an estimated 200m people globally.

A report launched in Geneva on Tuesday said that up to 90% of e-waste, worth around $19bn, is being dumped illegally and the mountain could top 50m by 2017. The report, published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), follows a similar report last month that claimed the cost to the global economy was $52bn.

It highlights that countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, Vietnam and India are bypassing the legitimate recycling market, though to be worth $410bn a year, and are becoming illegal hubs for e-waste.

Agbogbloshie is West Africa’s second largest e-waste site, where end of line electronic devices are dumped. Public health threats within the surrounding area include malaria and tuberculosis.

Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP has called upon countries to implement legislation that would encourage the recovery of valuable metals and other toxic waste in devices.

He said, “We are witnessing an unprecedented amount of electronic waste rolling out over the world”.

“Through enhanced international cooperation and legislative coherence, stronger national regulations and enforcement, as well as greater awareness and robust prevention measures we can ensure that the illegal trade and dumping of e-waste is brought to an end”.

“This will create a win-win situation, whereby rare and expensive elements are safely recycled and reused, boosting the formal economy, depriving criminals of income and reducing health risks to the public.”

A report published last year claimed that toxic waste poses a “major threat” to the health of more than 200 million people in low and medium income countries.

Image:  perfortunasonosiculo via Flickr

Further reading:

Toxic waste a health threat to 200m people, says report

How fair is your smartphone?

MPs back circular economy and call for an end to the ‘throwaway society’

EU plans to recycle 70% waste by 2030 to promote circular economy

Switching to a ‘circular’ economy will unlock crucial investment

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