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The world's e-waste funnelled to just a few developing countries

Editorial
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A NEW report shows that the international flow of electronic waste disproportionately affects just a handful of developing countries.

The report, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that nearly a quarter of e-waste from developed countries find their way to just seven developing countries, with major potential health risk for the people who live in those countries.

Knut Breivik and colleagues noted that the export of e-waste from developed to developing regions can help people in resource-poor countries acqwuire technology or earn income from salvaging parts and material from the waste.

However, the flood of e-waste also causes concern since environmental regulations and enforcement in developing countries are often too weak to protect local people and their environment from the waste’s toxins, including lead and mercury.

Breivik’s team decided to pinpoint how much e-waste the world is discarding and where it goes.

Past estimates on the flow of e-waste vary, so the researchers analysed data from many studies to arrive at more reliable numbers. They estimated that in 2005, more than 38 million tons of used electronics were discarded worldwide. Nearly a quarter of the waste from developed nations went to China, India and five West African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin and Liberia.

With estimates that e-waste will top 72 million tons by 2017, a better understanding of the fate of e-waste could inform how the world deals with it, the researchers say.

The full report is available here.

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