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Illegal e-waste disposal worth billions of dollars

Staff writer ▼ | August 27, 2013
Disposing of electronic waste became one of the most profitable illegal activities. Developed countries are sending millions of tons of used electronics to emerging countries where recycling is a big and dangerous business.
e-waste
e-wasteDisposing of electronic waste became one of the most profitable illegal activities. Developed countries are sending millions of tons of used electronics to emerging countries where recycling is a big and dangerous business.


New models of electronic device are released every day and the estimate is that 9 million tons of e-waste is scrapped in the European Union every year. The United Kingdom alone contributes with an estimated 1.5 million tons to it and 75 percent of the UK's recycling are cooperating with traders who are shipping e-waste to undeveloped countries.

In 2012 the EU amended the directive on the waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The document is aimed at preventing the export of anything outdated or broken to developing countries. According to the 2012 report of Geneva's International Labour Organization, of the e-waste in developed countries that is sent for recycling, 80 percent ends up being shipped, often illegally, to countries such as China, India, Ghana and Nigeria for recycling.

Recycling of electronic waste is highly expensive because some components are dangerous for the environment and toxic for people. E-waste contains lead, mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals that can cause serious neurological damage. So, some garbage-disposal companies earn a double profit on household garbage: instead of utilization of outdated electronics they simply sell it, they simple are shipping the problem abroad.

China is the main dumping ground for e-waste in Asia, while Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are secondary centers for the trade. Hong Kong and northern Vietnam are key transit hubs for e-waste shipments. Approximately eight million tons of e-waste are smuggled into China every year. For the region, this value could be rounded to ten million tons a year. At a value of around $375 per ton, this market is worth $3.75 billion in East Asia.

In the countries where the waste is received, young children are often involved in breaking down the equipment that contains harmful chemicals. Those children are facing serious health consequences, becoming victims of heavy diseases, such as asthma. The United States, the world's largest producer of e-waste, has a similar problem with recycling companies that practice illegal schemes to redirect e-waste to China.

due to the recent tightening of regulations in Asia, it is estimated that more e-waste will flow into West African countries in the future.


 

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