Dumping e-Waste into Africa Now an International Concern
November 30, 2006 10:35 AM
Obsolete and non-functioning consumer waste finds its way to third world countries
The United Nations held a conference this week called the 8th Conference of the Parties where UN members discussed primarily issues affecting the environment. The main topic was what they called "e-waste."
A byproduct of technology that was once cutting edge, e-waste is basically old technology that has become obsolete and consumers no longer want them.
Old televisions, computers, phones and other electronics are getting moved overseas
, to third world countries and being "dumped" there for people to use. While the concept of recycling is definitely the idea, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, expressed a high degree of concern over e-waste.
During his speech to UN members, Steiner noted "If these were good quality, second hand, pieces of equipment this would perhaps be a positive trade of importance for development." Most people would consider this a fairly positive bit up to this point. Steiner then expressed concerns that most products being shipped over either have malfunctions or are completely non-functioning. "But local experts estimate that between a quarter to 75 per cent of these items including old TVs, CPUs and phones are defunct—in other words E-waste, in other words long distance dumping from developed country consumers and companies to an African rubbish tip or landfill," continued Steiner.
The UN meeting suggests that manufacturers begin looking at ways to truly recycle used and non-functional electronic equipment. Nokia for example,
announced recyclable phones earlier this year
. The phones would be taken back to a break-down facility where a specific degree of heat would cause the phone to instantly break apart into individual components. Product designs like this easily help manufacturers salvage old products and refurbish them for uses elsewhere. Developing countries where technology is slow moving can benefit from recycling schemes such as Nokia's.
Near the end of his speech, Steiner pointed out that China was a country leading the world in terms of a "circular economy," where nothing was wasted. A circular economy is a concept where one product is a raw material for another product. And a product could be anything from a hand-held instrument to heat for warming homes.
According to UNEP study, "Some progress in the areas of electronics is being made and I congratulate the Basel Secretariat and responsible members of industry for the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative. There is a lot that can be done like take back schemes, recycling projects and certification of exports showing them as functioning equipment."
Whatever the case may be, e-waste has definitely grown to international proportions and the concern is very real. It's a reality that landfills are piling up with waste and more electronic consumer products are being manufactured in mass quantities daily. At the same time, massive amount of products are being thrown away by consumer -- most of which are still usable.
It appears as though the world has come along way since the introduction of the "three R's" concept.
"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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