Millions of tonnes of the world's electronic waste end up in Africa where it is dumped in landfills.
Millions of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, toys, digital cameras, and other electronic devices bought this Christmas are destined to create a flood of dangerous "e-waste" that is being dumped illegally in developing countries, the UN has warned.
The global volume of electronic waste is expected to grow by 33 percent in the next four years, when it will weigh the equivalent of eight of the great Egyptian pyramids, according to the United Nations StEP initiative, which was set up to tackle the world's growing e-waste crisis. Last year nearly 50 million tonnes of e-waste were generated worldwide — or about seven kilograms for every person on the planet. These are electronic goods made up of hundreds of different materials and containing toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and flame retardants. An old-style CRT computer screen can contain up to three kilograms of lead, for example.
Once in a landfill, these toxic materials seep out into the environment, contaminating land, water, and the air. Besides, devices are often dismantled in primitive conditions. Those who work at these sites suffer frequent bouts of illness.
An indication of the level of e-waste being shipped to the developing world was revealed by Interpol last week. It said almost one in three containers leaving the EU that was checked by its agents contained illegal e-waste. Criminal investigations were launched against 40 companies. "Christmas will see a surge in sales and waste around the world," says Ruediger Kuehr, Executive Secretary of StEP. "The explosion is happening because there's so much technical innovation. TVs, mobile phones, and computers are all being replaced more and more quickly. The lifetime of products is also shortening."