IT Best Practices

InfoShot: E-waste's black market

Did you know it takes a tonne of ore to mine a single gram of gold? So when you consider that 25 tonnes of mobile phones can yield 10kg of gold - market value: ~$383,000 - plus silver, platinum, palladium, and copper, it’s no surprise to hear there’s a growing criminal economy around e-waste.

A new UN report, Waste Crime - Waste Risks: Gaps in Meeting the Global Waste Challenge, anything between 60% and 90% of the world’s e-waste is illegally traded or dumped annually, totalling some $19 billion worth of discarded phones, computers and other electronics. “We are witnessing an unprecedented amount of electronic waste rolling out over the world,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner. “Not only does it account for a large portion of the world’s non-recycled waste mountain, but it also poses a growing threat to human health and the environment, due to the hazardous elements it contains.”

Beyond merely dumping in the wrong place, this report says is that there’s a string of crimes around e-waste. “Profit is the fundamental objective of the different players in illegal waste shipments,” it read. “These may include exporters, middlemen and informal recyclers.” Aside from the environmental damage of improperly disposed electronics, there’s plenty of money laundering deals going on. Companies will get paid handsomely to dispose of potentially hazardous e-waste, only to label it as regular waste and dump it cheaply or sell it on in other countries, or then extract the precious materials in low-cost and unsafe ways, pushing up their margins.

As well as being large in terms of money and amount of materials, this is a widespread problem. The report labels key locations for e-waste shipments as East Africa; mainly in Ghana and Nigeria, along with Cote D’Ivoire and the Republic of the Congo. China, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam are also listed as common destinations. “From organized truck transport across Europe and North America to the use of major smuggling hubs in South Asia, including widespread container transport by sea.”



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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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