The United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP, has released a new study concerning the waste management services, or lack thereof, employed by national governments. The group has determined that nearly 3.5 billion people lack these services resulting in large-scale environmental degradation and poor public health. It also went on to state that a large portion of the world’s trash could be used to recover precious metals and ores, such as gold.
According to the report (Guidelines for National Waste Management Strategies: Moving from Challenges to Opportunities) as much as one ton of electronic waste could yield as much as 15 tons of gold. Additionally, circuit boards found in everything from laptops to printers could result in a bounty of rare metals, as well as copper and aluminum. UNEP posits that developing countries stand to benefit the most from enacting recycling operations to recover these and other resources from their waste. Using recycled materials would supplement the national resources of any given country, especially those who are resource-poor to begin with.
It is worth noting that even large economic powerhouses, such as China, have turned to such recycling services to supplement their nation’s resources. Many Chinese manufacturers use recycled materials originating from the U.S., Europe, and among its own population to produce textiles and electronics components. In other countries, the introduction of recycling has created hundreds of thousands of jobs. In the European Union, some 230,000 jobs were created by recycling in the year 2000. In 2008, this jumped to over 500,000 jobs.
The UNEP report concludes that developing nations should look to improving their waste processing and reclamation services. Not only for the untapped mineral wealth, but for the health of their populations. Open dumping remains the standard for the developing world, resulting in widespread contamination of water supplies and disease outbreaks in poor urban communities. Countries who work to reevaluate their disposal practices stand to benefit from a healthier citizenry and more material wealth.