East meets Waste: tech waste piling up in Asia

The Asian tech boom isn’t being matched by e-waste recycling plans The Asian tech boom isn’t being matched by e-waste recycling plans JIM XU/getty images;
14 Mar
2017
Asia not only manufacturers most of the world’s electronic goods, it now consumes the most as well. Without sophisticated recycling systems, e-waste is piling up

As electronic appliances have become more affordable and more in-demand across Asia, electronic waste has boomed. New data published by the United Nations University (UNU) reveals a jump of 63 per cent in e-waste between 2010 and 2015, with China alone more than doubling its amount across that timeframe – an increase of 107 per cent, contributing 6.7 million of the total 12.3 million tonnes found across the 12 countries surveyed. Asia now represents not only the primary manufacturing sites for electronic appliances, but also the primary consumption market, purchasing nearly half of all 56.5 million tonnes of electronic items sold.

‘This is alarming,’ says Ruediger Kuehr, Head of the Sustainable Cycles Programme at UNU.

When it comes to consumption of electronic equipment, because of the increasing middle-classes in East and Southeast Asia we can expect a further substantial increase, maybe even an explosion

Some countries in the region, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, are noted as having the most developed and sophisticated e-waste recycling systems, while China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam are seen as being ‘in transition’; less developed, but making their way along a similar trajectory. Others, such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, have the worst e-waste recycling systems in the region, relying primarily on informal approaches. It is here where practices that are hazardous to both environmental and peoples’ health take place, such as open burning and ‘backyard recycling’, where crude methods such as acid baths are used to try and obtain traces of the valuable metals inside waste products.

‘A lot of people see e-waste as offering them an opportunity for developing their own business, especially those in developing countries who want to earn a living somehow,’ says Kuehr. ‘There is gold and other precious metals, but in very low quantities.’

This was published in the March 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.