Greener BeeGreen GadgetsGadget mountain rising in Asia threatens health, environment

Jakarta — The waste from discarded electronic gadgets and
electrical appliances has reached severe levels in East Asia, posing a growing
threat to health and the environment unless safe disposal becomes the norm.

was the biggest culprit with its electronic waste more than doubling, according
to a new study by the United Nations University. But nearly every country in
the region had massive increases between 2010 and 2015, including those least
equipped to deal with the growing mountain of discarded smartphones, computers,
TVs, air conditioners and other goods.

average, electronic waste in the 12 countries in the study had increased by
nearly two thirds in the five years, totalling 12.3 million tons in 2015 alone.

incomes in Asia, burgeoning populations of young adults, rapid obsolescence of
products due to technological innovation and changes in fashion, on top of illegal global trade in waste, are among
factors driving the increases.

in Asia now replace their gadgets more frequently. In addition, many products
are designed for low-cost production, but
not necessarily repair, refurbishment or easy recycling,” said the study.
It urges governments to enact specific laws for the management of electronic waste or rigorously enforce existing

South Korea, Taiwan and Japan have long established recycling systems based on
laws introduced in the 1990s. Open dumping of lead- and mercury-laden
components, open burning of plastics to release encased copper and unsafe
backyard operations to extract precious metals are the norm in most countries
including Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia, which also lack laws governing the
treatment of electronic and electrical waste.

study said open burning and unsafe recycling is associated with a slew of
health problems for workers and communities near recycling operations They
include infertility, childhood development problems, impaired lung function,
liver and kidney damage, inheritable genetic damage and mental health problems.

recyclers are after gold, silver, palladium and copper, mainly from printed
circuit boards, but the crude acid bath extraction process releases toxic fumes
and is also inefficient, recovering only a portion of the valuable material.

Asia as
a whole is the biggest market for electronics and appliances, accounting for
nearly half of global sales by volume, and produces the most waste.

Dangerous practices continue

Guiyu, a
heavily-polluted rural town in China that specialises
in dismantling consumer electronics, some of it exported from rich countries,
has become synonymous with the costs of a throwaway high-tech world.

has cleaned up Guiyu and other centres
like it but the Basel Action Network, which brought Guiyu to international
attention, said most of the dangerous practices continue in Guiyu albeit
concentrated within a new industrial park on its outskirts.

Kuehr, one of the study’s authors, said the amount of waste being generated is
higher than governments estimate, partly
because of their narrower definitions, and should be a wake-up call to
policymakers and consumers.

are all benefiting from the luxury of these electrical and electronic products
to a certain extent, it makes our lives easier, sometimes more
complicated,” he said. “However if we want to continue like this we
must be reusing the resources contained in electronic and electrical

smartphone, for example, uses more than half the elements in the periodic
table, some of which are very rare, and in the longer-run will be exhausted
without recycling, said Kuehr. 

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