E-waste, a closer look.Posted: March 18, 2011
This week we learned about the problem of the export of e-waste to the developing world. I am going to take a closer look at the problem for this week’s blog.
According to Wikipedia E-waste (which is also known as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment – WEEE) is “discarded, surplus, obsolete, or broken electrical or electronic devices.” When this waste is processed informally in developing countries serious health and pollution problems occur. Some electronic scrap components contain contaminants such as lead, mercury, and flame retardants which are toxic not just to humans but also to the environment.
E-waste is regularly exported by developed countries to developing ones even though it is against international law. Colin told us on Wednesday that only 1 in 100,000 items for export was inspected. In 2005 18 European seaports were inspected and it was found that nearly 50% of the waste that was being exported was illegal. This shows us that on a day to day basis a huge quantity of illegal e-waste is being exported. In 2003 in the UK at least 23,000 metric tonnes of undeclared electronic waste was illegally shipped to the Far East, India, Africa and China. In the US it is estimated that 50-80% of the waste collected for recycling is being exported in this way. However in the USA this is legal as the USA has not agreed to the Basel Convention. I found this video which talks about where e-waste ends up.
What damage does e-waste do?
E-waste is often sent to third world countries by the shipping container load. Many companies who say that they are recycling e-waste are actually sending the pollution to other countries. Large piles of unwanted consumer electronics build up by the side of the road and in the landfills of the developing countries. They leach toxins into the soil and into the groundwater. This can cause many problems such as crop deficiencies, birth defects, and serious illnesses. A couple of companies have begun to take notice of this problem and are taking action to dispose of e-waste safely. This practice is supported by governments who have stated demanding e-waste processing fees are put onto the sale price of new consumer electronics.