In 2006, 896 million new cell phones were put on the global market. With such an incredibly high input, a good guess is that there is a lot of people using a second-hand cell phone out there, but also that a lot of old cell phones are gathering dust in drawers. What we know is that far too many end up as non recycled trash, or are “recycled” by people working for a tiny income under terrible conditions.
In a new report released today, the United Nations Environment Programme draw attention to electronic and electric waste, pointing out that official data is scarce and that metals in themselves are trashy not only post cell phone life, but that mining is indeed a wasteful business. Electronic and electric waste contains a lot of metal, such as aluminum, copper, palladium and gold.
The report is an intriguing technical guide on how to properly recycle electronic and electric waste, but it also provides estimates on how volumes of electronic and electric waste will increase in so-called developing countries over the coming years. In Uganda, for example, quantities will increase by a factor between 6 and 8 by 2020. Challenges are, as per usual, complex and correspondingly huge. There is need for legislation and policing of such legislation, but legal recycling can’t happen without proper smelting facilities and dismembering factories.
In a comment to the Guardian, Ruediger Kuehr, United Nations University, points out that with increasing demand follows a surge in illegal import of what the global North considers trash.
It’s definitely in the countries which have substantial increase in consumption – countries like China and India, which are still substantial targets for illegal imports of e-waste. The same applies for countries like Nigeria.
With the risk of being repetitive, the background problem is our collective obsession with consuming new products and a world more and more characterized by electronic consumer products, while insufficient attention is given to recycling and upcycling.