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Asian countries launch action to tackle 'e-wastes' under UN-backed treaty

Asian countries launch action to tackle 'e-wastes' under UN-backed treaty

Officials from eight Asian countries are meeting in China, under a United Nations-backed treaty on hazardous wastes, to seek solutions to the growing deluge of electrical and electronic wastes, popularly refereed to as "e-wastes."

"The emerging issue of 'e-wastes' needs to be tackled urgently as the production and use of PCs [personal computers] continues to rise dramatically," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose agency the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal was adopted in 1989.

A number of Asian countries are generally considered to be the main importers of e-wastes generated around the world, UNEP said, noting that the importing countries "can earn significant income from refurbishing used PCs and disassembling obsolete personal computers, monitors and circuit boards and then recovering the gold, copper and other precious metals."

UNEP said "end-of-life" personal computers, printers and other related equipment are made of highly sophisticated blends of metals, plastics and other materials, which often contain hazardous substances such as lead, cadmium and mercury. "Workers in e-waste operations may face dangerous working conditions where health, safety and environmental standards may be compromised," the agency said.

A variety of potential solutions are being discussed at the meeting in Tianjin, including incorporating easier and safer dismantling at the design stage, strengthening of national capacities and legislative frameworks for monitoring, and controlling transboundary movements of this hazardous waste stream.

The meeting, attended by representatives from China, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam, will also consider how to start producing authoritative data on e-waste streams, while evaluating current technical practices.