The world needs to co-operate to counteract the growing problem of electronic waste (e-waste), a new collaborative study has concluded.
The study, conducted by researchers from the UK as well as the USA and China, found that toxic e-waste is being shipped around the world illegally or sent to countries with unsafe or underdeveloped recycling facilities.
The authors of the paper said they hoped to shine a light on how recycling could be improved to allow e-waste to become part of the circular economy.
Professor Lenny Koh, director for the Centre of Energy, Environment and Sustainability at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘E-waste can be turned into ‘gold’ and can contribute to the circular economy if it is handled effectively, efficiently and sustainably, thereby avoiding negative impacts on health and the environment.’
E-waste, which concerns electronic waste such as old mobile phones, computers, and circuit boards – is growing rapidly with almost 45 million metric tonnes recorded in 2016.
E-waste often contains toxic components, making it potentially hazardous both to human beings and the natural environment.
However, equipment capable of recycling e-waste efficiently is at present highly expensive, with current preventative measures such as the UN’s Basel Convention unable to cope with the issue.
The researchers behind the study say that international co-operation and the private sector could play a vital role in sharing the skills and technology to handle e-waste and making them more widely available.
Increased government oversight and financial incentives such as those offered by Indian banks towards sustainable development in rural regions may also help the e-waste industry, they say.
Professor Koh added: ‘Accessible best available technologies, sustainable standards for e-waste recycling, and financial incentives will pave the way forward for global actions in solving the e-waste challenge.
‘Our research and recommendations shown in this paper can be used directly by governments and industry globally in designing e-waste recovery and circular economy models and policy.’
The news comes as a report earlier this week said that the UK recycling industry is ‘creaking’, largely due to it being designed in a pre-e-commerce era.
The UK currently has a recycling rate of 45.2%, well below the EU’s target of 50% by 2020 and 55% by 2025.