Recently a landmark bill banning the export of electronic waste to developing nations – mainly China, India and Nigeria was introduced in the US. Although the bill seeks to cut all e-waste exports due to their hazardous nature, it contains a loophole that allows working electronic products that can be repaired or refurbished to be shipped overseas and recycled. Unfortunately however, the bill which seeks to promote green diplomacy, is just a veil, since much of the material that currently already ends up in developing nations – all global hotspots for recycling – is still usable, but is dismantled nevertheless under crude conditions for precious metals, such as gold, palladium and copper.
While India and China have been known to recycle and reuse old, broken down parts, the flood of e-waste including cell phones, computers, and other electronic device is a serious environmental and health concern. It is estimated that mobile phones in India will generate 1,700 metric tons of e-waste this year, a figure that the UN Environment Program expects to increase 18 fold in the next decade, a potential human health time bomb in a country with a very informal recycling system.
Nonetheless, with ineffective bills passed in developing countries that don’t want to deal with their own e-waste, both India and China are being digitally damaged.
Research shows that e-waste is gathering in unhealthy heaps due to the increasing market penetration of electrical and electronic goods such as computers, televisions, and mobile phones not only from developed nations but also increasingly from India and China. Advances in technology and a growing consumerism have reduced the average life cycle of these products, increasing the obsolescence rate of electrical and electrical products manifold.
For example, analysts estimate that the volume of e-waste in China will reach 5.1 million metric tons in 2020, an increase of more than 150 percent from 2005. Along with the high generation of e-waste at home, China also receives illegal imports of e-waste from developed countries, and partly as a result of this, e-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in China.
However there is light at the end of the tunnel, as the global e-waste management market grows the rate of e-waste recycling across all geographies is set to increase. Analysts anticipate the e-waste recovery market to reach US$21 billion in 2020 from US$6.9 billion in 2009. Besides innovative entrepreneurs in both China and India trying to create oil or other sources of energy from recycling redundant products, stringent government regulations and policies on the environment, recycling and safe disposal of e-waste are optimistically increasing the electronic recycling rate across China and India.