A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that illegally traded and dumped e-waste is worth up to $19 billion every year and causes severe health risks. Millions of tons of used technology equipment are smuggled to Asia and Africa, where they end up in landfills.

The electronic industry generates about 41 million tons of e-scrap each year, 60 to 90% of which are illegally discarded in developing countries.


Where is e-waste going?

Around 80 percent ends up being shipped (often illegally) to developing countries such as China, India, Ghana and Nigeria for recycling.

E-waste Landfill - Ghana“India is a favorite destination for almost all kinds of waste, not only e-waste. Environmental regulations and oversight mechanism is very weak in this country and I think that’s true for most developing countries at this point in time,” said Satish Sinha, Environmentalist and Associate Director of Toxics Link, to RT.


Why is it a problem?

Health risks…

Electronic scrap contains many hazardous substances and recycling it has to be handled with great care. But in developing countries, proper facilities don’t really exist… so it is the children that go to the e-waste landfills.

It is often young children who are involved in breaking down the electronic devices that contain toxic chemicals, such as lead. They obviously work without any protection and they face serious health consequences. Those often children become victims of asthma, cancer and infections caused by cuts.

Environmental risks…

IT equipment is dumped on landfills, so when it gets broken down, the removal of copper, lead, and plastics from discarded electronic items pollutes local air, soil, and water.

Data breach risks…

Sensitive data is not always properly erased from devices shipped overseas. This represents a major opportunity to illegally collect confidential data from old computers, cellphones and tablets.


What are the regulations?

Various regulations are in place to prevent used electronics to be disposed in developing countries.

  • The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA), bans e-waste overseas dumping by American companies. (Not enforced yet)

But regulations between exporting and importing countries are inconsistent, which poses a challenge to combat illegal e-waste trafficking effectively. UNEP reports that, “thousands of tons of e-waste are falsely declared as second-hand goods and exported from developed to developing countries, including waste batteries falsely described as plastic or mixed metal scrap, and cathode ray tubes and computer monitors declared as metal scrap.”


What are the recommendations from UNEP?

Countries are encouraged to:

  • Strengthen awareness, monitoring and information by mapping of scale, routes and state of hazardous waste, and possible involvement of organized crime.
  • Strengthen awareness in the enforcement chain, and of prosecutors, of the risks of fraud, tax fraud and money laundering through the waste sector.
  • Strengthen national legislation and enforcement capacities.
  • Promote prevention measures and synergies, such as facilitate the proper return of illegal waste shipments and at cost to shipper.
  • Proceed with a technical assessment of quantities and qualities of abandoned containers, particularly in Asia, and of dumping of hazardous waste worldwide.
  • Further improve binding agreements on classification of waste.


At ICT, we’re all for anything that keeps electronics out of landfills. That’s why we tailor our electronics recycling solutions to fit each company’s unique needs.
At ICT, transparency is key. Every technological device is processed by R2 certified staff in the ICT facility in the Boston area. ICT knows how important trust is and values its relationships with its customers. ICT cares about preserving our planet and helps companies all over the country to recycle E-Waste and protect their data.

Author Bio: Audrey Adam is the marketing manager at ICT. She has a background in journalism and blog writing.



Photo credit: Ghanaians working in Landfill, Wikipedia; Creative Commons License



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