E-waste handling is bringing much needed money to China and India, but it's a deal with the devil; improper handling leads to the toxic exposure to locals and serious damage to the gloval environment. In addition, the ineffective handling wastes precious resources.   (Source: Greenpeace)
New study showcases the problem of electronic waste in China and India, an issue that continues to grow

In the heat of China, toxic plumes waft daily into the hot summer air.  It's just another day in a nation that's become an international dumping ground for electronics waste.  Even as the U.S. and other nations have passed laws prohibiting sending shipping containers packed full of old computer monitors and cell phones to China or India, the practice quietly continues every day.  It's a toxic trade that exposes the Chinese people to unsafe levels of halogens, mercury, and lead.

The UN's Environmental Programme, concerned about this growing problem, has issued a special report entitled "Recycling – from E-Waste to Resources".  According to the study, the current efforts are simply not good enough; the problem is growing.  The report predicts that by 2020 India will be home to 7 times as much computer waste, while China and South Africa will be home to 2 to 4 times as much waste.  Cell phone waste is expected rise 700 percent in China and over 1800 percent in India.

The report identifies Latin America and Africa as vulnerable regions, in addition to India and China.  It identifies numerous types of e-waste, including old computers, printers, mobile phones, pagers, digital photo and music devices, refrigerators, toys and televisions.  The report says that the biggest issue is not the waste itself, but the fact that it's being dumped on a nation without proper disposal tools and is being mishandled.  This both leads to wasted resources and exposure to toxins.

Describes UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, "This report gives new urgency to establishing ambitious, formal and regulated processes for collecting and managing e-waste via the setting up of large, efficient facilities in China.  China is not alone in facing a serious challenge. India, Brazil, Mexico and others may also face rising environmental damage and health problems if e-waste recycling is left to the vagaries of the informal sector."

"In addition to curbing health problems, boosting developing country e-waste recycling rates can have the potential to generate decent employment, cut greenhouse gas emissions and recover a wide range of valuable metals including silver, gold, palladium, copper and indium. By acting now and planning forward many countries can turn an e-challenge into an e-opportunity."

The report suggests building state-of-the-art e-waste facilities in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Morocco and South Africa.  Kenya, Peru, Senegal and Uganda were suggested locations of waste pre-processing (dismantling) facilities.

UNEP wants the U.S. and other nations to step up to the plate when it comes to investing in these facilities.  After all, if we want to dump our trash overseas, we should at least finance proper handling of it, the panel argues.  Doing so would both prevent waste of resources and prevent the release of toxins into the local air and water supplies.

Ultimately, in its current state e-waste is both a blessing and a boon.  It's important not to discount the fact that it does bring desperately needed money to poverty stricken regions in China and India.  However, much like the prostitution industry in Thailand, the e-waste industry is an exploitive one, and its prosperity comes at a high cost -- in this case the health of the local populous and the environment.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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