Developing Nations Will Get Buried Under Coming E-Waste Surge

Developing Nations Will Get Buried Under Coming E-Waste Surge

A new report from the U.N. Environment Programme finds that electronics purchases in growing economies and increased exports from the U.S. and Europe will sharply increase in the next decade.

Skyrocketing sales of gadgets, cell phones and other electronics in China, India, Latin America and Africa will make handling e-waste a growing problem in the coming years.

Without comprehensive e-waste collection and recycling programs, the report says that developing countries will face "hazardous e-waste mountains, with serious consequences for the environment and public health."

The report, "Recycling -- from E-Waste to Resources," uses data from 11 developing countries to make estimates of the amount of e-waste currently generated, as well as projections about future growth. In South Africa and China, for example, the report predicts anywhere from 200 to 400 percent growth in discarded computers over 2007 levels by 2020, and 500 percent growth in India.

The biggest concerns about skyrocketing e-waste levels comes from the toxics embedded in the products, including lead, mercury and other chemicals, as well as unhealthy and environmentally damaging methods for dismantling electronics to recover the useful and valuable materials.

The report explains that much of the e-waste in China is handled improperly, often times through incineration by backyard recyclers. Burning electronics will release gold, platinum and other valuable materials, but also unleashes toxins on the environment and nearby residents.

Last year, the television news program 60 Minutes aired an exposé of e-waste handling practices in China, and GreenerComputing.com reported on the dirty truth behind some e-waste collections.

Download the full report, Recycling -- from E-Waste to Resources from GreenerComputing.com. More information is also available online at UNEP.org.