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U.N.: Up to 90 Percent of Electronic Waste Illegally Traded or Dumped

Electronic waste is a burgeoning multibillion-dollar illicit business, says a United Nations Environment Programme report.
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Electronic waste is not only a global environmental hazard, it's a burgeoning multibillion-dollar criminal business, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday. The report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that as much as 90 percent of the world's electronic waste -- everything from used computers to smartphones -- is illegally traded or dumped each year. Much of the e-waste winds up in Africa and Asia. "We are witnessing an unprecedented amount of electronic waste rolling out over the world. 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," Achim Steiner, U.N. Undersecretary-General and executive director of UNEP, said in a statement.

The report says about 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was generated in 2014, and this number could increase to 50 metric tons by 2018. The report estimates that a staggering 60 percent to 90 percent of e-waste is illegally traded or dumped, amounting to as much nearly $19 billion annually. In some cases recyclable waste such as plastics, paper or metals is used to cover or hide hazardous waste. In other cases, e-waste is deliberately labeled as other, non-hazardous items to deceive law enforcement.

The UNEP report recommends, among other things, mapping the global routes of hazardous waste, boosting awareness among law enforcement agencies and strengthening national legislation.