Asia & Pacific

  • Gadget-hungry Asia tops global e-waste generation

    Fatima Arkin

    19/01/17

Speed read

  • Demand for gadgets has significantly increased e-waste generation in Asia

  • Most depend on the informal sector to dismantle, collect and recycle e-waste

  • Internet can improved collection efficiency by linking consumers with collectors

[MANILA] Rising incomes and high demand for electric and electronic equipment (EEE) in East and South-East Asian countries have resulted in e-waste generation increasing by two thirds during 2010—2015, says a new study published by the United Nations University (UNU).

The average increase in e-waste across 12 countries analysed — Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam — was over 60 per cent during the five-year period totalling 12.3 million tonnes.

“Inadequate knowledge, lack of measures for health and pollution control in the informal sector of e-waste dismantling, recycling and disposal are common problems.”

Liu Lili, Basel and Stockholm Convention Regional Centre for the Asia and Pacific Region in China


“This study is important now because of the still increasing mountains of e-waste,” Ruediger Kuehr, co-author of the study and head of UNU’s Institute for Sustainability and Peace SCYCLE unit, tells SciDev.Net. “It’s not only about smartphones or computers, but also toys, rice cookers, air conditioners etc.”

In UNU’s estimation, e-waste quantities are outpacing population growth. Per capita generation was roughly 10 kilograms in 2015 with Singapore generating a high 19.95 kilograms. At the other end of the scale, Cambodia generates 1.10 kilograms, Vietnam 1.34 and the Philippines 1.35 kilograms.  

New products such as tablets and a fast expanding middle class that can afford more gadgets are blamed for the increased e-waste generation. Adding to the problem is the rapid obsolescence of products through rapid changing technology and fashions in EEE.   

Overall, countries in Asia purchased 26.69 million tons of EEE items in 2012, or half of the global market. With EEE sales in Europe and the Americas declining as result of recession, Asia is now the largest consumer.

“To ensure that EEEs in our households are also produced in the future we have to secure the resources that are reintroduced in the production chamber, and this is only possible by good collection and good recycling,” says Kuehr. Government approaches to e-waste vary across countries. In Singapore, the government manages e-waste through public-private partnerships. Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand are yet to establish laws for e-waste management, but leave collection and recycling to the informal sector.  Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam recently enacted e-waste legislations but, like many other countries in the region, face challenges.

“Inadequate knowledge, lack of measures for health and pollution control in the informal sector of e-waste dismantling, recycling and disposal are common problems,” says Liu Lili, senior programme officer, Basel and Stockholm Convention Regional Centre for the Asia and Pacific Region in China, tells SciDev.Net.

Liu suggests that collection efficiency can be improved through using the Internet to increase communication between e-waste vendors and consumers and provision of training to members of the informal sector involved in handling e-waste.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.