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Tackling e-waste

Experts warn electronic waste is flooding developing countries
Tackling e-waste

International cooperation is needed to stop developed nations offloading defunct electronics to developing countries, according to a University of East Anglia (UEA) researcher and colleagues in China.

Prof. Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics in UEA’s School of International Development, along with Prof. Zhaohua Wang and researcher Bin Zhang of the Beijing Institute of Technology, argue in a comment piece in Nature that a global approach is needed to deal with electronic waste (e-waste).

Disposing of e-waste

Rich nations produce the most e-waste, but it is largely disposed of in poorer ones, where regulation is lax.

China processed around 70% of the world’s e-waste in 2012; the rest went to India and other countries in eastern Asia and Africa, including Nigeria.

Non-toxic components — such as iron, steel, copper and gold — are valuable and frequently recycled. But informal disposal plants release toxic materials, volatile organic chemicals and heavy metals, which can harm the environment and human health.

The authors conclude that the global approach to e-waste should include an international protocol, an industry body to certify processing firms and promote technology transfer, firmer national legislation, banning toxic imports and policing shady ‘second-hand’ exports and greater awareness of the problem among consumers.

‘The ultimate aim should be a circular economy of cleaner production and less wasteful consumption, including the embrace of rental and cloud-based technologies with smaller material footprints.’

PROF. DABO GUAN
Professor of climate change economics in UEA’s School of International Development

The authors suggest researchers and regulators should track electrical components through production and usage to disposal, recovery and remanufacturing using radio-frequency identification tags.

Click here for more from the UEA’s School of International Development.

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