E-waste hog No. 1: United States

Electronics sales are expected to climb sharply in the next 10 years, and e-waste is expected to grow along with them. Much of that waste—computers, cell phones, televisions—ends up in developing nations, which are ill-equipped to deal with it, according to a new United Nations report. The report says India is expecting a 500 percent growth in computer waste alone. Meanwhile, e-waste in China and South Africa is expected to grow 400 percent from 2007 levels over the next 10 years, with cell phones making up a good chunk of that.

The report also notes that the United States is the biggest generator of e-waste, producing about 3 million metric tons of it a year. “In the U.S., more than 150 million mobiles and pagers were sold in 2008, up from 90 million five years before,” the report states. And much of the developing world’s e-waste is sent to China, where it’s often improperly handled—backyard recyclers incinerate it to recover valuable metals like gold, “practices that release steady plumes of far-reaching toxic pollution,” the report says.

By instituting formal, state-of-the-art e-waste recycling facilities and practices, developing nations could create jobs, cut gas emissions and recover a wide range of valuable metals, the report concluded.