The world faces being swamped with a tidal wave of electronic waste as sales of household gadgets boom over the next decade, according to a report out today.
It will wreak environmental havoc if no new strategies are produced to deal with the discarded TVs, mobile phones and computers, the UN study said.
The environmental and health hazards posed by the globe’s mounting electronic waste are particularly urgent in developing countries, which are already dumping grounds for rich nations’ high-tech trash, the UN Environment Programme study said.
Electronic waste is piling up around the world at a rate estimated at 40 million tons a year, the report said.
China produces 2.6 million tons of electronic waste a year, second only to the United States with 3.3 million tons, it said.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the globe was ill-prepared to deal with the explosion of electronic gadgets over the past decade.
“The world is now confronted with a massive wave of electronic waste that is going to come back and hit us, particularly for least-developed countries, that may become a dumping ground,” he said.
He said some Americans and Europeans have sent broken computers to African countries falsely declared as donations. The computers were dumped outside slums as toxic waste and became potential hazards to people, he said.
The report predicts that China’s waste rate from old computers will quadruple from 2007 levels by 2020. Meanwhile in India waste from old refrigerators - which contain hazardous chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbon gases - could triple by 2020.
It said the fastest growth in electronic waste in recent years has been in communications devices such as phones, pagers and smart phones.
Most of the recycling of electronic waste in developing countries such as China and India is done by inefficient and unregulated operators. The environmentally harmful practice of heating electronic circuit boards over coal-fired grills to leach out gold is widespread in both countries.
The report called for regulations for collecting and managing electronic waste, and urged that technologies be transferred to the industrialising world to cope with such waste.
While electrical products such refrigerators, air conditioners, printers, DVD players and digital music players account for only a small part of the world’s rubbish, their components make them particularly hazardous.