Asia’s e-waste crisis: The fallout from cheap gadgets (and higher pay)

The proliferation of affordable gadgets in Asia coupled with rises in income has contributed to a sharp increase in levels of e-waste in Asia, a United Nations University study has found. While gadgets plummet in cost, so do their shelf lives, with affluent consumers lusting after the latest – affordable – releases.

Asia's e-waste crisis: The fallout from cheap gadgets (and higher pay)

This trend has abounded in recent years; China’s e-waste output more than doubled between 2010 and 2015, according to the study. This is not happening in isolation, either – the amount of e-waste across the continent has risen 63% in five years.

One of the worst offenders was Hong Kong, with each person generating an average of 21.7kg (3.4st) of e-waste in 2015 alone. This was not anomalous: Singapore and Taiwan expended 19kg of e-waste per person in the same year.

Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines generated the lowest amount of e-waste, averaging about 1kg per person. Quite the feat, considering the throngs of iPhone-toting tourists accidentally abandoning smartphones on beaches and in hostels.

Indeed, the UK has long been established as one of the worst offenders for failing to recycle discarded electricals, reports The Independent, contributing significantly to the woeful statistic that more than 84% of global e-waste ends up in a landfill.

Meanwhile, in Asia, as incomes get higher, so does the scale of disposal, with electronics ranging from smartphones and tablets to TVs and refrigerators being tossed aside to make way for newer, shinier things.

As such, the need to improve recycling and disposal methods is only becoming more pressing, warns the UNU’s report. Co-author of the report and head of the UNU’s sustainable cycles programme, Ruediger Kuehr, has drawn attention to this burgeoning crisis, saying: “For many countries that already lack infrastructure for environmentally sound e-waste management, the increasing volumes are a cause for concern.”


What’s more, environmental and health hazards aren’t the only repercussions of poorly disposed e-waste, with experts voicing concerns about the role discarded electronics play on the black market, fuelling a shadow economy. Above board, the formerly common practice of recycling discarded electronics from richer countries has lost its momentum. And while this may be a blessing in disguise (factories were often dangerously ramshackle), this spirit of thrifty innovation should be championed in the global drive to improve recycling methods.

With the acknowledgement that e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, our global consciousness must take heed.

Images: baselactionnetwork and The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, used under Creative Commons

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