China topping the 'e-waste' mountain

The Asia-Pacific region's electronic waste has jumped by 63 per cent in the past five years, and China is leading the way. Source: AAP

SBS World News Radio: The Asia-Pacific region's electronic waste has jumped by 63 per cent in the past five years, and China is leading the way.

China is drowning under mountains of unwanted gadgets and appliances.

A report by the Japan-based United Nations University has found China's electronic waste has doubled since 2010.

Professor Jiang Jiangguo has researched waste management at Beijing's Tsinghua university.

"With China's rapid economic growth, China's consumption of electronic products and waste is growing fast. Especially products like cellphones and computers have a short lifespan."

He says China's increasingly wealthy and image conscious consumers are buying the latest goods, and trashing them, faster than ever before.

And the country's recycling system is struggling to keep up.

Up to 90 per cent of China's electronic waste is processed by unregulated backyard family-run workshops.

Street collectors pick up goods discarded in the cities and bring them to these informal centres to be dismantled.

Elements which can be resold are separated and sent to factories and other third parties.

Informal waste processing is a billion-dollar industry in China.

It's dirty and dangerous work, and also illegal.

Toxic chemicals from e-waste can damage health and the environment.

Eric Liu, from Greenpeace's Beijing office, says the system is inefficient and unsustainable.

"After these people collect the waste they will send it to whoever pays them the most. So we think those people don't think about whether it's legal or not, whether it's environmentally safe or not. They are only thinking about it from a business perspective."

Guiyu in China's south is known as the world's biggest electronics graveyard.

It's been cleaned up in recent years, but the water and soil remain heavily polluted.

Eric Liu says if the system doesn't change, the same damage can occur across the country.

"We believe that if this situation continues it will potentially be a huge danger to the Chinese environment and public health."

In recent years China's government has implemented new e-recycling measures, certifying 109 commercial e-waste processing centres nationwide.

But redirecting e-waste to safer channels is an uphill battle.

NGOs like Greenpeace are now lobbying manufacturers to take a bigger role in the recycling of products they produce.

Professor Jiang Jiangguo says change will only be possible if the government works together with electronics companies.

"The government needs to make the right policies to improve the recycling capabilities of commercial e-waste processing centres. And those who produce the electronics need to be more environmentally friendly in the manufacturing of their products."



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