UN MOVES TO TACKLE GROWING E-WASTE MENACE

Computing

The United Nations (UN) has initiated moves to curb inherent dangers posed in donations of developed countries of old possibly toxic computers, mobile phones and televisions, which could pose a hazard to the environment of poor countries.

Delegations from some 120 nations meeting for five days of talks in Kenya are expected to focus on the estimated 20-50 million tonnes of so-called "e-waste" generated globally each year, much of it then shipped to the developing world.

Western consumers who donate old equipment to poor nations, especially in Africa, could be adding to a multitude of environmental problems there, officials say. One study last year in Nigeria said about 500 containers of secondhand electronics arrived at Lagos seaport every month.

But dealers said as much as three-quarters of the PCs, televisions and phones inside were 'junk' so obsolete they could not be repaired. Many were burned at open-air dumps, releasing toxic fumes and leaching chemicals like barium, mercury and brominated flame retardants into surrounding soils.

On the agenda at the meeting are proposals to make manufacturers (including some of the world's top computer companies) take more responsibility for their products, from the design stage through the supply chain to final disposal.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that some 14-20 million Personal Computers (PCs) are thrown out each year in the United States alone. Activists say if manufacturers had to pay recycling costs, they would create less toxic, longer-life products.

A four-year partnership with 12 mobile phone manufacturers including Vodafone, Nokia and Sony Ericsson to develop strategies for the recycling and re-use of the more than 600 million phones now sold worldwide every year was equally hailed.

As well as 'e-waste', the meeting is expected to also consider what to do with thousands of aircraft and ships expected to go out of service and be scrapped before the end of the decade. It will also focus on strengthening nations' obligatory reporting on waste shipments thought to be have increased more than four-fold around the world in the last decade.

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