The Danger of an e-Waste Tsunami

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The recognised need for responsible management of chemicals in e-waste has brought together Governments, civil society, the private sector and the chemical industry. Hence, parties to three major chemical Conventions met recently in Geneva to consider the problem of electronic waste in the context of the global environment agenda. The issue raises two critical issues, non-recyclable waste and the dangers of hazardous chemical components of e-waste.

Achim Steiner referred to the ‘tsunami of e-waste rolling out over the world’ as ‘economic stupidity’ given that discarded electronic materials provide, in reality, enormous quantities of essentially re-useable raw materials. The amount of some unused electronic materials available above ground now exceeds that quantity of such materials in-ground. Education about disposal of e-waste is seen as the key to providing access to such ‘urban mines’ and their potential for re-use of scarce and valuable raw materials.

The second limb of the Conference agenda addressed global controls on hazardous chemicals in e-waste. Conference delegates focussed not on stopping use of chemicals, but on informed decision-making about and sound management of chemicals and their alternatives to guard against ever-encroaching chemical toxicity in the population.

Occupational poisoning from the unintended effects of chemical use on the body is said to cause one million deaths each year. The reach of chemicals, including in the polar bear population, speaks of the transport of chemicals in air and water, and is described as the ‘silent crisis’ as chemicals accumulate in the body with potentially deadly consequences. Similarly necessary to risk management for the population and the environment is the prevention of the use and safe disposal of obsolete pesticides.

 

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