06/23/2008, 00.00
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World toxic waste summit in Bali

From today till Thursday Basel Convention signatories will study the growing trade in hazardous waste from industrialised to emerging countries, especially in Asia, and its serious impact on the environment and human health. E-waste is becoming a serious problem in China and India.

Bali (AsiaNews) – A global policy on toxic waste management that is respectful of human health and the environment is closely tied to development goals like the eradication of hunger in the world, this according to the 9th conference of the signatories of the UN Basel Convention which regulates trans-boundary movements of hazardous waste.

The meeting, which opened today in Bali, Indonesia, has attracted about a thousand delegates from 170 countries, and will last until Thursday. Its focus will be on ways to better dispose of dangerous waste in emerging and developing nations in order to minimise its effect on human health and the environment.

The Basel Convention of 1989 was designed to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries which lack the infrastructure and know-how to guarantee eco-sustainable disposal or recycling.

However the Convention has not been successful in stopping the flow of hazardous waste, especially e-waste, from industrialised countries to emerging nations like China and India that have become virtual dumps for the West.

E-waste problem

For a long time environmental groups like Greenpeace have complained about this traffic and its deadly impact on people and land. According to the Associated Press, 80 per cent of all electronic components in the United States goes abroad for recycling with Asia taking the lion share.

On the periphery of the continent’s largest urban areas an army of the poor takes apart electronic devices to retrieve precious metals like platinum, silver and gold, using acids and bare hands which come into contact with toxic substances like lead, cadmium and mercury. And what cannot be recycled gets buried in the ground where it can leach into water sources.

The whole sector is run by an illegal system that relies on inadequate instruments and methods in total disregard of minimum standards of safety and protection.

China gets most US e-waste, but since new rules were introduced the flow of this kind of discarded material has moved to India, where there is a legislative vacuum in the matter.

Exporting e-waste is not illegal in the United States because it is the only industrialised country not to have ratified the Basel Convention.

Here many hazardous materials like computers or low grade machines are able to get around even the few rules that do exist.

In 2007 alone some 600 tonnes of e-waste were shipped to India as duty-free donations, reported Threehugger.com, an Internet outlet dedicated to environmental sustainability.

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