E-waste is rising in Asia dangerously: UN study

Gadget mountain threatening health, environment

JAKARTA: A customer browses through used electronic items at a market on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. The waste from discarded electronic gadgets and appliances has increased by two-thirds in East Asia over five years, posing a growing threat to health and the environment unless proper disposal becomes the norm. —AP

MANILA, Jan  15, 2017 (AFP) – Electronic waste is rising sharply across  Asia as higher incomes allow hundreds of millions of people to buy smartphones  and other gadgets, with serious consequences for human health and the  environment, according to a UN study released Sunday.    So-called e-waste in Asia has jumped 63 percent in five years, the report  by the United Nations University said, as it warned of a need for most nations  across the region to improve recycling and disposal methods.

“For many countries that already lack infrastructure for environmentally  sound e-waste management, the increasing volumes are a cause for concern,” said  Ruediger Kuehr, the report’s co-author and head of the UN University’s  Sustainable Cycles Programme.

For many years, China and some other parts of Asia have been a dumping  ground for discarded electronics from the developed world, recycling the waste  in often unsafe but ultracheap backyard factories.

But the report said that in recent years, Asia has rapidly emerged as a  major source of electronic waste, due to increasingly affluent consumers buying  items such as phones, tablets, refrigerators, personal computers and  televisions.

China more than doubled its own generation of e-waste between 2010 and  2015, the period of the study, according to the report.

Per capita the worst-offending economy in the region was Hong Kong, with  each person in the Chinese territory generating an average of 21.7 kilograms  (47.8 pounds) of e-waste in 2015.

Singapore and Taiwan were also big e-waste dumpers, with just over 19  kilograms per person generated in 2015, according to the study.

Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines were among the lowest e-waste  generators with an average of about one kilogram for each person.

Meanwhile, improper and illegal e-waste dumping means increased exposure to  extremely toxic chemicals, leading to severe health and environment  consequences.    Acids that are used to separate the metals in the electronic products are a  particular concern, with inhalation or exposure to them causing serious health  problems.

In the Chinese town of Guiyu, which built its economy on recycling waste  from overseas, heavy metal contamination has turned the air and water toxic,  according to a 2014 study by researchers at Shantou University Medical College.

Children in the town also had high lead levels in their blood, the  university study found.

When an AFP team visited Guiyu in 2014, electronic remnants were strewn in  a nearby stream, and the air was acrid from the burning of plastic, chemicals  and circuitboards.

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