Africa: Volume of Electronic Waste Set to Rise By a Third

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Gregory also proposes creating trade codes that describe the characteristics of goods traded. These could function as labels for e-waste during shipping to other countries, potentially enabling easier tracking. Additionally, allowing more open access to shipment level trade data would enable more accurate analyses of export flows.

He is also concerned about the management of the hazardous components of these products, such as the gasses within LEDs, and about the acids used to extract valuable metals such as gold, silver and aluminium from circuit boards.

"Several regions in China and India, and some other places in Africa, are still to this day processing used electronics in ways that are harmful for the workers, themselves and for the environment," Gregory says.

Yet used electronics that still work can provide opportunities for citizens and small business owners in the developing world, he adds.

"If there is a way in which we can make sure that used electronics can have a second life for people who very much need them at an affordable cost that would be a win-win," Gregory says. "We need to make sure that the products that are going to the developing world are actually functioning and operational products and not just trash."

And countries such as South Africa are dealing with unwanted e-waste in recycling facilities like the Cape Town Pilot.

But apart from the initial economic investment that developing nations would need to start processing e-waste in a profitable way, Dr. Suthipong Sthiannopkao, assistant professor at Dong-A University in South Korea, and author of several papers on this issue, is also concerned about the repercussions for workers' rights in those countries.

"Safe disposal requires large initial investments in equipment and training of personnel as well as supporting regulations concerning disposal of e-waste," he tells SciDev.Net. "If it can be profitable in developing countries, it will likely be because of lower labour and land costs."

Link to the e-waste world map

Link to the report on US e-waste

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