The Coming Flood of Electronic Waste

Consumers in the developing world are rapidly increasing their purchases of electronics – computers, cell phones, toys, cameras. Disposal capacity isn’t keeping pace. The UN Environmental Program just issued a new report that predicts a massive increase in e-waste in the developing world.

Global e-waste is increasing by 40 million tons a year, much of it in poor countries.  Modern electronics can use up to 60 different elements; some are toxic, some are valuable, some are both. In the developing world, e-waste is generally handled by “backyard recyclers” – basically, families who break down electronics and isolate valuable components. That often means incineration, which has a major impact on air quality.

For once, however, this seems to be a problem that actually has a solution. UNEP recommends the development of high-tech recycling centers capable of handling e-waste, bolstered by a community network that collects e-waste and delivers it to recycling facilities. One promising model is in Bangalore, India.  EWA supports a clean e-waste channel to receive consumer electronics for recycling.

One issue UNEP doesn’t address is financing. I’d love to know if there is enough value to e-waste to help support these recycling centers, or they’ll be an ongoing cost center for governments.