Toxic ‘e-waste’ dumped in poor nations, says United Nations

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Although it is legal to export discarded goods to poor countries if they can be reused or refurbished, much is being sent to Africa or Asia under false pretences, says Interpol. \”Much is falsely classified as \’used goods\’ although in reality it is non-functional. It is often diverted to the black market and disguised as used goods to avoid the costs associated with legitimate recycling,\” said a spokesman. \”A substantial proportion of e-waste exports go to countries outside Europe, including west African countries. Treatment in these countries usually occurs in the informal sector, causing significant environmental pollution and health risks for local populations,\” he said.

Few countries understand the scale of the problem, because no track is kept of all e-waste, says the European Environment Agency, which estimates between 250,000 tonnes and 1.3m tonnes of used electrical products are shipped out of the EU every year, mostly to west Africa and Asia. \”These goods may subsequently be processed in dangerous and inefficient conditions, harming the health of local people and damaging the environment,\” said a spokesman.

A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that the US discarded 258.2m computers, monitors, TVs and mobile phones in 2010, of which only 66% was recycled. Nearly 120m mobile phones were collected, most of which were shipped to Hong Kong, Latin America and the Caribbean. The shelf life of a mobile phone is now less than two years, but the EU, US and Japanese governments say many hundreds of millions are thrown away each year or are left in drawers. In the US, only 12m mobile phones were collected for recycling in 2011 even though 120m were bought. Meanwhile, newer phone models are racing on to the market leaving old ones likely to end up in landfills. Most phones contain precious metals. The circuit board can contain copper, gold, zinc, beryllium, and tantalum, the coatings are typically made of lead and phone makers are now increasingly using lithium batteries. Yet fewer than 10% of mobile phones are dismantled and reused. Part of the problem is that computers, phones and other devices are becoming increasingly complex and made of smaller and smaller components.

The failure to recycle is also leading to shortages of rare-earth minerals to make future generations of electronic equipment.

via Toxic ‘e-waste’ dumped in poor nations, says United Nations | Global development | The Observer.