UN report: 90 per cent of electronic waste handled illegally (dpa German Press Agency)

Geneva (dpa) – Nearly all of the world’s discarded electronics are processed illegally, as criminals have made it their business to handle up to 18.5 billion dollars of such material each year, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said Tuesday.

Most of the waste containing hazardous substances ends up in African and Asian countries, where it is dumped or recycled, threatening the health of workers and the environment, UNEP said in a report that was issued in Geneva.

“We are facing the onset of an unprecedented tsunami of electronic waste rolling out over the world,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.

Up to 41 tons of so-called e-waste are generated each year, of which up to 90 per cent end up in illegal channels, according to the report.

The UN estimates that the waste could rise to 50 million tons in the next two years.

Ghana and Nigeria are the main destinations for high-tech trash in Africa, followed by Ivory Coast and Congo-Brazzaville.

In Asia, many shipments end up in China, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

The report said that informal recyclers in Asia often use crude tools or their bare hands to extract raw materials.

Electronic components are heated over open fires and put in acid baths, while parts that have no further use are dumped on fields and along rivers.

Developed countries have rules that ban shipping e-waste to developing countries, but thousands of tons are falsely labelled and exported each year.

UNEP said governments should strengthen their laws and law enforcement regarding illegal waste trading, which can involve organized crime.

In addition, the electronics industry and waste management companies should ensure that electronic materials do not end up in the wrong hands, it said.