India, one of the two largest markets for mobile phones in the world along with China, faces a mounting problem — how to get rid of the discarded mobiles.

For, by the year 2020, the size of the discarded mobile-mound will grow by 18 times from the 2007 level, says a United Nations Environment Programme study.

If no proper e-waste recycling mechanism is put in place, these abandoned phones are going to create environmental damage and health problems, the study warns.

The study, ‘Recycling from e-waste to resources,’ was released at a combined meeting of the bodies of UN Conventions on hazardous chemical wastes, organized by the UNEP, at Bali on February 22. It warns developing countries, especially fast growing economies like India, China, Brazil and South Africa, that if efforts are not made to recycle the abandoned electronic equipment, they will be in for big environmental trouble.

Apart from mobile phones, old computers, TVs and refrigerators added to the e-waste mountain in these countries. For instance, computer e-waste in India will have risen by five times in 2020 from the 2007 level. Discarded refrigerators will double or even triple.

The report estimates that India’s current e-waste generation is: 2.75 lakh tonnes from TVs, over one lakh tonnes from refrigerators, 56,300 tonnes from personal computers, 1,700 tonnes from mobiles and 4,700 from printers.

However, China’s problem from e-waste is much more than that of India. It now generates five lakh tonnes of refrigerator waste and three lakh tonnes of PC waste.

Apart from the e-waste generated by domestic consumption, India, China and other developing countries also have to confront the legal and illegal dumping of e-waste by western countries, mainly the United States which is, as of now, not bound by international agreements on hazardous wastes as it has refused to sign such treaties.

Global environmental NGOs have in the past caught several shipments of e-waste on way to the illegal dumping yards in developing countries. For instance, Jim Puckett, leader of a global NGO battling such dumping, pointed out at a media meeting that as recent as this week the Indonesian government, alerted by his group, had sent back two ship containers carrying computer waste sent by an American company.

The UNEP report also notes that global e-waste generation is growing by 40 million tonnes a year. In 2007, more than one billion mobiles were sold in the world and the sales are set to jump in the coming years, particularly in developing countries which are home to large populations.