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A call to Urgent Action on E-Waste

E-Waste (CC BY-ND 2.0) by JuditK

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr Tedros recently declared that the world is facing " a mounting tsunami of e-waste ". This alarming statement describes a reality that is often ignored. And yet, this is not only a very serious pollution problem but it is also a major public health problem that primarily affects children and women in developing countries. According to the WHO more than 20 million children and more than 15 million women are working in the informal waste sector. In 2019 -these are the latest figures available- more than 53 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated across the world (Re.UN). But only 17.4% of the e-waste produced reached formal management or recycling facilities (Re.GESP). Low income countries are obviously the most severely affected by this phenomenon. It is these countries that employ massively informal workers. That said, it is necessary to recall that children and adolescents should have an absolute right to grow in a healthy environment and to go to school instead working in a dangerous environment. And yet, the situation throughout the world is far removed from these principles. In India, for example, most of the e-waste is recycled in unorganized units which engage a very significant number of manpower including very young children. They work very often with bare hands at these e-waste dumpsites (Re.drishti). It must be also added that India's first "e-waste clinic" dedicated to the complete treatment of e-waste was set up in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh in 2020. However, it should be mentioned that only 17% of India's e-waste (3 million tonnes) is subjected to industrial treatment. This country is ranking third among e-waste producing countries, after China and the USA (Re. India.mongabay.com). It is also important to highlight that a European citizen generates 16.2kg of e-waste per year (Re.Statista.com). Here again lies a major area in which public and industrial authorities must act urgently.

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