According to a report published by the United Nations University (UNU), e-waste generated in East and South East Asia rose by a staggering 63% between 2010 and 2015.
The sharp rise in thrown-away electronic goods is generating millions of tonnes of hazardous waste, putting pressure on finite resources, and is a ticking ecological time-bomb, the analysis of 12 countries shows.
The UNU states that the increase in waste is due primarily to the booming middle-classes of China and other neighbouring countries, and is not linked to population growth. A record 16 million tonnes alone was added to Asia’s e-waste mountains in one year alone.
Co-author, Ruediger Kuehr said that “Growing incomes, the creation of more and more gadgets and ever-shorter lifespans of things like mobile phones are the reasons for this tremendous increase in Asia.’
While at 3.7 kg of electronic waste generated per person in the region per year is still dwarfed by Europe’s 15.6kg per individual, the growth in waste is a cause for concern that show no sign of slowing. Old electronic devices such as old mobile phones and computing equipment have a large eco footprint compared with most other types of waste.
The manufacturing process of such items uses up vast amounts of energy, water, and scarce resources such as lithium and lead. Perhaps the biggest worry for the UN however is the lack of any large scale environmental management processes dealing with the waste, and the fact that very little of it is recycled.
Another problem contributing to the rise of the e-waste mountains in Asia is that fact that huge amounts of Western e-waste ends up in Asia as well. “Even well-meaning shipments of used but functioning products, though not illegal, are often the source of large volumes of e-waste, as there is no market for these out-dated products even in developing countries,” the UNU report concludes.
One solution offered by the UNU report is to reduce the cost and complexity of recycling e-waste. For this to happen however, electronic manufacturers would have to change their current production techniques at the design stage.