E-waste fast becoming global blight

By Jonathan Owen

Grim study reveals demand for new products results in huge dumping of electronic equipment

Electronic scrap creates a significant recycling problem world-wide. Photo / AP
Electronic scrap creates a significant recycling problem world-wide. Photo / AP

Grim study reveals demand for new products results in huge dumping of electronic equipment

They are on our person, in our homes and in our workplaces, many of them harbouring heavy metals and toxic materials which are dangerous to people and the environment unless they are properly recycled.

Yet the soaring international demand for electric and electronic products is fuelling a global rise in e-waste, which is set to reach 65.4 million tonnes annually by 2017.

The grim forecast is from a new study, which has mapped more than 180 countries. It reveals that, in just five years, the yearly amount of e-waste will rise by 33 per cent from the 49 million tonnes of used electrical and electronic items generated last year.

Worldwide, the US is the worst offender with 9.4 million tonnes of e-waste each year, with around 26,500 tonnes being sent to poorer countries each year.

Mobile phones form the bulk of the 14 million used electronic products exported with most used phones destined for Hong Kong, and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Old computers are generally sent to Asian countries, while heavy items like TVs and computer monitors end up in places such as Mexico, Venezuela, Paraguay and China.

Another contributor to the global e-waste mountain is China, producing around 7.3 million tonnes a year and ranked second in the world after the US for its volume of e-waste.

Britain is another major contributor, ranking sixth in the world in terms of the total amount - creating around 1.4m tonnes of waste a year.

From unwanted flat-screen TVs to mobile phones, from fridges to microwaves, the UK is the worst offender in the EU.

A new report by Wrap (Waste & Resources Action Plan), an independent body created by the British Government to promote recycling, reveals that hundreds of thousands of tonnes of e-waste are being dumped in landfills across the country.

Wrap is now working with a number of leading retailers and manufacturers to develop a Sustainable Electricals Action Plan. This aims to improve the sustainability of electrical products by developing industry standard guidance on design and buying specifications for major household appliances aimed at extending their life.

- Independent

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