E-waste fuels global toxic dump

17th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Basel Convention says millions of tonnes of waste from computers, cell phones and television are ‘catastrophic’.

Geneva -- A "catastrophic accumulation" of millions of tonnes of "e-waste" from computers, cell phones and television sets is creating a global pile of hazardous waste, an international body warned Friday.

Figures due to be released by the Basel Convention on transboundary movement of hazardous waste will show that the amount of discarded electronic goods has grown rapidly in recent years, officials said.

The convention's office said the stockpile, which includes toxic heavy metals and hazardous chemicals, needed to be confronted swiftly.

"I'd say it's something in the region of six billion tonnes; it's a rough estimate," said Katharina Kummer Peiry, executive secretary of the international agreement, which was signed in 1989.

"E-waste did not even exist as a waste stream in 1989 and now it's one of the largest and growing exponentially," she told journalists.

A report by experts for the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that the flow would soon reach 50 million tonnes a year, generated at three times the rate of other solid municipal waste.

The Basel Convention emphasised that e-waste was a by-product of the business and consumer growth in electronic communications.

"Add an increasing demand for electronic gaming, higher definition televisions or smart cars, and the result is a catastrophic accumulation of e-waste, now and into the future," it added in a statement.

The experts advising UNEP highlighted electronic scrap as "one of the topical environmental issues of the 21st century," especially with the shorter useful lifespan of each generation of hardware as technological development accelerates.

Extracts of data released on Friday showed that transboundary movements of overall hazardous waste grew by about a fifth from 9.35 million tonnes in 2005 to 11.25 million tonnes in 2006.

Some 172 countries have signed the Basel Convention, which regulates international movement of hazardous and toxic wastes, partly by ensuring that shipments are approved by the receiving country.

Apart from preventing "toxic colonialism" -- developing countries being used as dumps for toxic waste from industrialised nations -- the convention also hoped to reduce cross-border movement of industrial waste in order to encourage nations to dispose of their own.

But movements have grown this decade, as has the number of countries trading such waste. Some 101 countries were exporters in 2006, against 63 in 2004.

Officials also admit that substantial illicit trade in chemical and hazardous waste is still not accounted for.

The UNEP report noted that a "significant" amount of "end-of-life" gadgetry, appliances and computers were now being imported into developing countries for reuse, refurbishment or processing.

Cheap labour costs and weak environmental and health rules made those nations attractive destinations, they argued, while second-hand items sent to poorer nations for extended use eventually ended up on a scrapheap in a different country from where they were bought.

Several nations on Friday highlighted the issue of e-waste ahead of the 20th anniversary celebrations for the Basel Convention on 17 November.

"The Basel regime is still too much focused on hazardous wastes, it does not sufficiently reflect that products can be brought to countries and become waste later," said Swiss ambassador Dante Martinelli.

AFP / Expatica

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