UN calls for action on tackling e-waste mountains

A UN report has called for urgent action in tackling the "mountains" of electronic waste that are growing in developing countries such as China and India, according to the BBC. A 500% rise could be seen in the number of old computers dumped in India by 2020, causing environmental damage and threatening public health.

The report looked at current levels of e-waste in 11 countries and how the levels may increase in the next ten years. Global e-waste is growing at a rate of 40 million tonnes per year.

Developing nations are happy to import e-waste from developed nations as they seek to extract valuable resources from them such as silver, gold, palladium and cobalt. Global production of mobile phones and computers in an average year, for example, will use 3% of the silver and gold mined, 13% palladium and 15% cobalt.

Extraction of these resources were also found to be inefficient and dangerous. One example in the report is the use of back yard incinerators to extract these metals in China, which are both wasteful and polluting.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) said that China was not the only one facing problems with e-waste. "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."

The UN's report went on to urge developing nations to start creating state-of-the-art e-waste treatment centres now, while levels of e-waste are still relatively small.

Konrad Osterwalder, rector of the UN University, perhaps put it best though. "One person's waste can be another's raw material."

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