(NaturalNews) Developing nations will face a major environmental and public health crisis from e-waste if they do not quickly put in place measures for safe recycling and disposal of electronics, the U.N. Environmental Program has warned.
E-waste refers to the problem of improperly disposed of electronics such as computers, televisions and cell phones. These devices are made with highly toxic metals, plastics and chemicals that can leach into the environment if not handled carefully.
Already, e-waste is a growing problem worldwide, especially in developing nations. The U.N. report notes that most e-waste in China is not properly disposed of. The most common disposal method consists of incineration in small, backyard recylclers to extract valuable metals contained within discarded devices. Yet the report's authors note that such recyclers recover metals at very low rates, while expelling large, steady toxic plumes into the sky. In contrast, modern industrial recycling facilities are able to recover gold, silver, copper, palladium, indium and other precious metals much more efficiently and with significantly less pollution.
China currently produces 2.3 million tons of e-waste, surpassed only by the United States' 3 million tons.
Demand for electronic devices is growing, with sales expected to increase dramatically across China, India, Africa and Latin America in the next 10 years. This is especially alarming given that disposal methods in these regions are still insufficient for even current levels of e-waste.
By 2017, e-waste from old computers alone is expected to increase to 500 percent above 2007 levels in India, and between to between 200 and 400 percent above these levels in South Africa and China. Waste from old cell phones is set to increase sevenfold in China and eighteenfold in India. Television waste is slated to increase by 1.5 to two times in both countries.
"This report gives new urgency to establishing ambitious, formal, and regulated processes for collecting and managing e-waste via the setting up of large, efficient facilities in China," said Achim Steiner director of the U.N. Environment Program.