China's booming middle class drives Asia's toxic e-waste mountains
Sharp rise in discarded electronic goods is generating millions of tonnes of hazardous waste, putting pressure on valuable resources, study shows
Asia’s mountains of hazardous electronic trash, or e-waste, are growing rapidly, new research reveals, with China leading the way.
A record 16m tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, were generated in a single year – up 63% in five years, new analysis looking at 12 countries in east and south-east Asia shows.
In China the mountain of discarded TVs, phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and small appliances grew by 6.7m tonnes in 2015 alone. That’s an 107% increase in just five years. To get a sense of scale, if every woman, man and child in China had an old LCD monitor and dumped it the pile would not equal the 2015 tonnage. 
The region’s fast-increasing middle class is the main driver of e-waste increases, not population growth, the report by the United Nations University found. However, Asia’s 3.7kg per person of waste is still tiny compared to Europe’s 15.6 kg per person, it said.
“Growing incomes, the creation of more and more gadgets and ever-shorter lifespans of things like mobile phones are the reasons for this tremendous increase in Asia,” said co-author Ruediger Kuehr of the UN University.
Electronics and electrical devices have a big eco footprint, meaning their manufacture consumes a lot of energy and water, along with valuable and sometimes scarce resources, making recycling and recovery very important. The increasing volumes of e-waste combined with a lack of environmentally sound management is a cause for concern, said Kuehr.