UN Warns of Environmentally Toxic E-Waste Mountains
February 24, 2010
(ChattahBox)—The United Nations is sounding the alarm on global e-waste of cell phones, computers and other electronic devices that is quickly clogging up our planet with toxic pollution. A report by the UN’s Environmental Program found that global e-waste is growing by 40 million tons a year. And the international agency is calling for new green global standards of recycling e-waste to minimize the serious environmental hazards. The UNEP warns that unless something is done to effectively deal with electronic waste, many developing countries face a public health and environmental nightmare from hazardous e-waste mountains filled with discarded cell phones.
The worst offender is the United States, which discards about 3 million tons of hazardous e-waste every year, with China a close second at 2.3 million. But a more pressing problem exists of “backyard recyclers” in China, India and many developing countries. Backyard recyclers take apart discarded cell phones and other devices to recover the precious metals inside, which releases “steady plumes of far-reaching toxic pollution,” according to the UN report.
The report cites China as the worst offender in hazardous e-waste recycling:
“The consumers in China have low awareness about the pollution from the informal e-waste recycling,” it concludes. “They tend to sell their end-of-life (EOL) equipment to the informal collectors for positive earnings. This habit will cost the future formal collection system and how much waste equipment formal collectors could receive from the consumers.”
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted, the developing world faces “rising environmental damage and health problems if e-waste recycling is left to the vagaries of the informal sector.”
And the secondary pollution from the e-waste is just a small part of the environmental nightmare. Every cell phone and other electronic devices require large amounts of precious metals that must be dug out of the earth. And the large-scale mining operations release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing towards global warming and clogging the air with pollution.
According to the study, cell phone and computer manufacturing consumes about three percent of all the world’s gold and silver each year, including 13 percent of all palladium, 15 percent of cobalt, and copious amounts of copper, steel, nickel, and aluminum.
The UNEP plans to meet soon in Bali, Indonesia to find ways to deal with the problem of hazardous e-waste. “One person’s waste can be another’s raw material,” said UN Under-Secretary General Konrad Osterwalder. “The challenge of dealing with e-waste represents an important step in the transition to a green economy.”
Source: Ars Technica