On the eve of a meeting of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Bali, February 24-26, the agency released a report titled “Recycling – from E-waste to Resources” at a gathering of chemical experts. E-waste is the abbreviation for discarded devices from the electronics industry. As the report says, “Without these products, modern life would not be possible in (post-)industrialised and industrialising countries. These products serve in such areas as medicine, mobility, education, health, food supply, communication, security, environmental protection and culture. Such appliances include many domestic devices like refrigerators, washing machines, mobile phones, personal computers, printers, toys and TVs.”
The report uses data from 11 representative developing countries to estimate current and future e-waste generation. The sources include old and dilapidated desk and laptop computers, printers, mobile phones, pagers, digital photo and music devices, refrigerators, toys and TVs. With sales of electronic goods burgeoning in India and China in the next decade, such waste will be far greater in future.
The study focused on developing countries because there are established procedures for disposing of e-waste in industrial countries and, inevitably, it is only in developing – and particularly emerging – countries that there is a major market for salvaging materials from these goods. UNEP wanted to examine whether its procedures for dealing with this waste were being followed and whether centres for excellence and innovation could be identified in developing countries.
In 2006, India had around 5 million PCs, and this is growing at a compounded rate of 25 % per year. By 2020, e-waste from old computers in the country will jump by 500% from 2007 levels. The comparative figures for e-waste from discarded mobile phones will be 18 times higher than in 2007, 1.5 to 2 times higher for TVs and double or triple from refrigerators.