Posts Tagged ‘Global electronic trash market’

E-waste boom around the corner

Monday, February 22, 2010

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.

International electronic tra$h crimes 101

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

We probably missed it (released in June 2009) due to not being on the send list, but now we’ve read it and it is high time we introduced to you the INTERPOL report Electronic Waste and Organized Crime – Assessing the Links.

The report goes in to some depth analysis of electronic & electric tra$h, highlighting facts such as the annual turnover of the UK market; UK£2 million (US$ 3,3 million), using the example to paint an overview. Most intriguing conclusion is that actors in the legal market claim that contractors offering free recycling of toxic electronic products probably also operate illegally, as profiting otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

Further, the report gives an image of the incentives of entering the illegal market: Tra$h fat cats buy (for example) an old TV, with the promise that their company will recycle it and sell the parts for profit, but instead sells it in a developing country. Buying the unit will cost US$4 or so, and sell for US$8.

Last but not least, the people behind the report call for more research in order to cast light over these shadowed activities. We most certainly agree to that. Increased efforts of recycling must not be the source of growing international crime (and with that, increased numbers of non-recycled electronics and electrics spewing out toxins once their capacity to entertain finally stops).

What’s WEEE and why is it bad?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

makeITfare, SwedWatch, the Church of Sweden and the Fair Trade Centre have produced a fairly substantive report on electronic tra$h flows from the European Union to developing countires. Speaking the language of the European Commission, the report uses the amusing term “Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment” (WEEE), but that’s where the fun stuff ends.

Quick facts: About 50 million tonnes of WEEE is produced annualy, and in the EU as a whole, only about a third is collected for recycling. Much of this is toxic and hazardous to handle, and even though some of the worst chemicals are no longer used in the EU, we can expect that most of the EU-WEEE predates July 2006, which is when regulations where tightened. As an example, an avarege cellphone contains about 200 chemical compounds.

According to the report, the flow of elctric trash from the EU to countries such as Pakistan, Ghana, China and the Philippines comes in many shapes. Three main routes can however be identified. First, there the tra$h that we are used to, garbage as an international commodity, on a market where the price of a laptop can be about US$ 10. Secondly, there’s the black market tra$h, which essentially is the same thing, only more illegal. Thirdly, there’s the export of used but fully functional computer, fridges, cell phones etc. from the global North to the global South.

When it comes to legal and illegal tra$h, the report points at the problem not really being whether what’s sold generates proper VAT, the problem is that regardless of who sells and buys, there are not adequate systems available when the tra$h reaches its final destination – it is taken care of by children and people living in poverty. The result is spelled in raised levels of led in their blood, and a long list of other things. For some tra$h tycoons, the ends justify the means. “Recycling” a computer costs about 15% in India, compared to West Europe.

For the donated computers and white goods, the problem will in the end be the same: Nowhere to recycle once the family fridge goes WEEE. I.e., it might feel all great giving your used laptop to an orphanage in Sub-Saharan Africa instead of sending it back to recycling, but trashly speaking, you might actually make things worse. Also worth to mention is that much of the used things that are supposed to be donated, actually end up as tra$h (and in some circumstances, its the other way round).

One of the more interesting, and at the same time deeply disturbing phenomena brought forward by the report are the so-called “trash tourists” that roam scrap yards and shady business offices in the EU. Trash tourists are essentially people who migrate in search of tra$h, more or less voluntarily. Makes me think of a Swedish investigative journalist TV-programme, exposing a businessman who in effect employed men from West Africa, without paying them, to sort out recycled car tires. He claimed they were guests, visiting to scout the market. They lived in barracks on the (incidentally toxic) grounds.

To conclude, the report notes with sadness that the Basel Convention, in place to prevent all this since 1989, is still terribly dysfunctional.

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