Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, but come the new year, the foreign landfills will also be getting fat with the old electronic gadgets that we gaily abandoned in favour of new shiny ones at Christmas. What that means is that millions of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, toys, digital cameras and other electronic devices, are destined to create a flood of dangerous e-waste that is being dumped illegally in developing countries.
How big a problem is e-waste?
Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams and is expected to grow by 33% in the next four years. To put this into some kind of perspective, it has been estimated by the UN’s Step Initiative, that it will weigh the equivalent of eight of the great Egyptian pyramids!
‘Step Initiative’ has been set up by the UN to tackle this growing (literally) problem of the world’s e-waste crisis. And ‘crisis’ is an apt term to use when you consider that last year alone, nearly 50m tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide. Again, to give some perspective on this, that figure equates to around 7kg for every person in the world.
Why is electronic waste growing at such a fast rate?
An increase in technical innovation means that electronic goods are replaced far more often. That combined with the lifetime of products getting shorter allows us to understand how this problem is only going to get worse. So the huge surge in sales of electronic goods expected at Christmas is of genuine concern.
Is it illegal to send discarded goods to poor countries?
No, it’s not illegal to export discarded goods to poor countries if they can be reused or refurbished, however a great deal is being sent to Africa or Asia under false pretences. “Much is falsely classified as ‘used goods’ although in reality it is non-functional. It is often diverted to the black market and disguised as used goods to avoid the costs associated with legitimate recycling” said an Interpol spokesman. This is resulting in significant environmental pollution and health risks for local populations from the toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and flame retardants. Once settled in landfills, these toxic materials seep out into the environment, contaminating land, air and water. When the devices are dismantled in primitive conditions – which they so often are in these undeveloped countries – those who carry out the work suffer frequent illness. The failure to recycle is also leading to shortages of rare-earth minerals to make future generations of electronic equipment. It is even more worrying then that recent statistics by Interpoll show that almost one in three containers leaving the EU that were checked by Interpol agents, contained illegal e-waste. This resulted in criminal investigations being launched against 40 companies.
Whilst steps are constantly being taken to reduce this problem, it certainly makes you think when you offload that old electrical gadget of the effect it will have on our environment. Here at Recycle IT 4U, our aim is to have an overall positive impact on the environment by preventing as much e-waste as possible going to landfill.