However, according to a spokesperson for Interpol quoted in The Guardian in spite of the fact that it is legal to export products that have been thrown out as long as they can still be refurbished and put to use in a different form, high levels of electronic waste are being sent to Africa and Asia under false pretenses. "Much is falsely classified as 'used goods' although in reality it is non-functional.
It is often diverted to the black market and disguised as used goods to avoid the costs associated with legitimate recycling," said a spokesman. "A substantial proportion of e-waste exports go to countries outside Europe, including west African countries. Treatment in these countries usually occurs in the informal sector, causing significant environmental pollution and health risks for local populations," he said.
According to the European Environment Agency quoted in the same article, many of the countries confronted with the problem of e-waste are unaware of its magnitude due to lack of information. They have not kept track of the used electronics materials coming onto their shores and have thus not been able to protect themselves from it.
“The worst-case scenario is sending used electronic products to developing countries for disassembly because the methods used in these countries are usually harmful to the health of the people doing the disassembly, and the environment in which they live,” said Randolph Kirchain, senior research scientist in MIT's Engineering Systems Division said in an interview with MIT News. ”The risks only continue to mount as the volumes of electronics used in society continue to grow,” he added.
It is not only a matter of there not being enough information in poorer nations to help deal with the problem -- there is also an information gap as to where this waste is going, whether it is going to the places mentioned in the StEP report or being dumped as the Interpol spokesperson suggests. The problem cannot be dealt with until there is clarity on this question.
StEP estimates worldwide e-waste to increase by 33 percent from 50 million tons in 2012 to 65 million tons by 2017. China and the U.S. lead the world as top producers of e-waste, with China producing 12.2 million tons and the U.S. at 11 million tons. However, America produces about 65 pounds of e-waste per person every year, which is more than the 11 pounds per person China produces.
Meanwhile, measures are being taken to overcome lapses in information however possible. The study was able to generate and collect quantities of e-waste using a sales obsolescence method that included uncertainty, and export quantities were calculated using a trade data approach. The study found that approximately 258.2 million units or 1.6 million tons of used electronics were generated in the US in 2010. Of the amount generated, 66 percent was collected for reuse or recycling purposes. This amounts to about 56 percent of total electronic used products if measured on the basis of weight. Of this total amount collected, the study estimates that 8.5 percent were exported on a unit basis, which is about 3.1 percent on a weight basis.
On a per-weight basis, televisions and monitors dominate the scales as far as quantities of exported used materials go. However, with the current worldwide boom in smartphone sales, mobile phones dominate the generation, collection and export of used electronics on a unit basis, according to the report.
— Zewde Yeraswork, Associate Editor, EE Times