Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mobile phones - avoiding toxic waste

Hazard of old mobile phones under spotlight at UN meet

The disposal of massive numbers of unwanted mobile phones will be a key focus of a five-day meeting on waste management which started Monday in Indonesia, organisers said.

The fate of the more than three billion of the gadgets in use today will be discussed by more than 1,000 delegates from 170 countries at the meeting on the Basel Convention in Bali, a statement said.

Delegates to the conference will discuss new guidelines for disposing of the phones, which have grown from technological obscurity into a household essential -- and a major waste challenge -- in a matter of years.

The conference would "consider adopting new sets of guidelines for the environmentally sound management of used and end-of-life mobile phones," a statement from the organisers said.

"The use of mobile phones has grown exponentially from the first few users in the 1970s to ... more than three billion in April, 2008. Sooner or later these phones will be discarded, whole or in parts."

While highlighting the phone issue, organisers said the effect of hazardous waste on human health and livelihoods would be a focus of the ninth "Council of Parties" meeting of the 1992 treaty.

Opening the conference, Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar said Indonesia's long coastline made it particularly vulnerable to the illegal dumping of toxic waste.

"Due to its archipelagic nature, with the second longest coastline in the world, Indonesia is vulnerable to illegal traffic of transboundary hazardous waste," he said.

Speaking to reporters later, Witoelar said rich nations needed to do more to stop their toxic waste being dumped in poor countries.

"Countries that export their hazardous waste have to be held responsible. There are many cases, such as in Africa, where this waste has killed populations of wildlife like lions and elephants, and even children," he said.

"Developed countries that dump their waste tend to ignore the problem."

The Basel Convention is an international treaty which regulates the international trade in hazardous waste and aims to minimise its generation and movement across borders.

Participants are expected to adopt a "Bali Declaration" aimed at highlighting the importance of health and waste management for global development strategies such as reducing poverty.

Convention Executive Secretary Katharina Kummer Peiry said countries on the receiving end of the trafficking of waste should be able to legally challenge dumping nations.

"There needs to be a joint commitment to help the suffering country using the Basel Convention. A mediating body could be formed and problems could be brought to an international court," she said.

"As we are all too often reminded, hazardous wastes continue to pose serious risks for human health and the environment," Peiry said in a statement ahead of the meeting.

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