Toxic Trade News / 28 November 2006
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U.N. meet to regulate e-waste
by James Simpson,
28 November 2006 (Nairobi) – Some of the poor African countries are turning out to be dumping grounds for the electronic waste of the world's richest nations, says head of the United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP) Achim Steiner.

He told delegates from some 120 countries, who are meeting in Nairobi in a five-day session to tackle the mounting problem of e-waste, one of the great challenges of our time is to collectively agree on what is waste and what are second hand products. Consumerism is driving a "growing mountain of e-waste," he added.

The summit will review the Basel Convention, intended at reducing the movement of all types of hazardous waste. Some of the proposals before the delegates are making manufacturers responsible for their products, from the design stage to final disposal, and a more effective international waste regulations to prevent disasters involving exposure to toxic materials contained in e-waste.

The participants will also review amendments to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal which will tighten controls on shipments and disposal of e-waste.

UNEP has estimated that nearly 50 million tons of waste from discarded electronic goods are generated annually and such waste is thought to be the fastest growing part of municipal waste in the developed world. In the United States alone, an estimated 14 to 20 million personal computers are thrown out every year, while developing nations are expected to triple their output of all electronic waste by 2010. Improper disposal of e-waste can release hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into the environment.

Steiner said the need for Basel is ever more evident in this globalized world.

While most of the e-waste used to find its way into the Asian countries like China and India, tighter environmental regulations imposed by these countries have forced the developed world to look at Africa as the dumping ground. According to a study by the Basel Action Network, a minimum of 100,000 used and obsolete computers a month are entering the Nigerian port of Lagos alone.

Steiner said if these were good quality, second hand, pieces of equipment It could be a positive trade of importance for development. "But local experts estimate that between a quarter to 75 per cent of these items including old TVs, CPUs and phones are defunct -- in other words e-waste," he said.

The Basel Convention, ratified by 169 countries and in force since 1992, aims at regulating waste in all of its forms, including e-waste. It came into force in 1992.

Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto, the Basel Convention's executive secretary, said measures are underway to regulate the export of hazardous waste, but problems arise because of the lack of legal and technical institutional capacity in many developing countries to monitor traffic across their borders.

She said the Nairobi conference will adopt a declaration aimed at accelerating action to protect human health and the environment from hazardous wastes. It is also expected to adopt technical guidelines on the disposal and recycling of lead- acid batteries, plastic wastes, biomedical and healthcare wastes and obsolete ships.

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