Millions of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, toys, digital cameras and other electronic devices bought this Christmas are destined to create a flood of dangerous "e-waste" that is being dumped illegally in developing countries, the UN has warned.
The global volume of electronic waste is expected to grow by 33% in the next four years, according to the UN's Step initiative, which was set up to tackle the growing e-waste crisis. Last year nearly 50m tonnes of e-waste was generated worldwide - or about 7kg for every person on the planet. These are electronic goods containing toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and flame retardants. An old-style CRT computer screen can contain up to 3kg of lead, for example.
Once in landfill, these toxic materials seep out, contaminating land, water and the air. In addition, devices are often dismantled in primitive conditions. Those who work at these sites suffer frequent bouts of illness.
An indication of the level of e-waste being shipped to the developing world was revealed by
According to the Step report, e-waste - which extends from old fridges to toys and even motorised toothbrushes - is now the world's fastest growing waste stream.
By 2017, Kuehr expects the volume of end-of-life TVs, phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and other products to be enough to fill a 15,000-mile line of 40-tonne lorries. In
Although it is legal to export discarded goods to poor countries if they can be reused or refurbished, much is being sent to
Few countries understand the scale of the problem, because no track is kept of all e-waste, says the
A new study by the
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