The three-day meeting co-hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Criminal Enforcement provided a forum for more than 100 representatives and experts from 21 countries and 12 nongovernmental organizations, the largest ever such gathering of involved countries and agencies.
"America is committed to working with its international law enforcement partners to explore all avenues available to curb the illegal transport of hazardous waste transnationally," said Fred Burnside, director of the EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement. "The work of this group should send a strong message that the environmental cops are on the beat."
Talks focused on developing a multi-national enforcement strategy to tackle the growing international problem of e-waste, which poses environmental and health risks, particularly in developing countries in Africa and Asia.
A pile of e-waste in Guiyu, China, one of the biggest e-waste centers of the world. More than a million tons of e-waste are dismantled in this Chinese village every year. (Photo by Bert van Dijk)
The discarded electronic equipment exported to these countries, such as televisions, cell phones, computers and monitors, contains hazardous substances, including lead, arsenic mercury, cadmium and other toxic metals that can have serious health and environmental impacts.
The smash and burn method used by laborers to isolate and collect the heavy metals for resale poses health risks, the conference participants recognized.
Some 50 million tons of personal computers alone are disposed of each year, the E-Waste Crime Group estimates, but that number is dwarfed by projections covering the next 20 years.
A study published in April by scientists at Arizona State University shows that developing countries will be producing at least twice as much electronic waste as developed countries within the next 20 years. Published in American Chemical Society's journal "Environmental Science & Technology," the study projects that in 2030 developing countries will be discarding 400 to 700 million obsolete personal computers per year compared to 200 to 300 million in developed countries.
Author Dr. Eric Williams and his team forecast "a dramatic increase" in ownership of personal computers and other electronic devices in both developed and developing countries.
At the same time, technological advances are shrinking the lifetime of consumer electronics products, so that people discard electronics products sooner than ever before. That trend has led to global concern about environmentally safe ways of disposing of e-waste.
The Arizona State scientists used a computer model to forecast global distribution of discarded personal computers. Based on that date, they concluded that consumers in developing countries will trash more computers than developed countries by 2016, with the trend continuing and escalating thereafter.
"Our central assertion is that the new structure of global e-waste generation discovered here, combined with economic and social considerations, call for a serious reconsideration of e-waste policy," wrote Williams.
A key element of the Global E-Waste Crime Group meeting was the development of a working plan to support planned multi-national enforcement operations aimed at controlling and deterring the illegal traffic of e-waste.
"INTERPOL has received an increasing amount of information about the level of organization behind these crimes and the damaging effects of their actions on people and the planet," said David Asante-Apeatu, Director of INTERPOL's Specialized Crime and Analysis unit.
"We now need to develop this awareness into action which is what this meeting will help achieve and to give all agencies involved the way forward to identify and dismantle the networks behind these destructive crimes," he said.
In 2009, INTERPOL established the Global E-Waste Crime Group, under the direction of the Environment Agency of England and Wales, to develop a comprehensive approach to investigating and prosecuting serious international environmental crime.
"Unfortunately the illegal transport of waste from the industrialized world to developing countries is an increasing problem, in particular when it comes to e-waste," said Ingela Hiltula, head of the Swedish EPA's unit for Environmental instruments.
"To be able to strengthen our methods for supervision in this field we need to exchange knowledge and experiences on a global level and we believe this meeting is a great starting point for doing so," she said.
Participants exchanged information on their respective country's strategic efforts to control illegal e-waste. They agreed to develop a sustainable information network which will assist environmental law enforcement agencies in both exporting and importing countries.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.