There has been rapid growth in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development during the last decades. Worldwide PC numbers will rise to 2 billion by 2015, with more than 1 billion in use by the end of 2008. Over 4 billion subscribers use mobile cellular telephones, translating into a worldwide penetration rate of 61 percent by the end of 2008.
Analyses have shown evidence that ICT has significantly contributed to capitalist growth economy. Regarding the environmental impacts of ICT, optimists hail a rosy future of a weightless knowledge economy, critics, however, point out that ICT also threatens environment through reinforcing capitalist growth economy and accelerating commodification of nature.
Although some case studies have shown the potential environmental benefits through ICT application, these approaches need to be balanced against a range of countervailing effects, including negative direct impacts of ICT manufacture, use, and disposal, effects of incomplete substitution of ICT for existing services, and rebound effects. In addition, the migration of ICT, which includes not only manufacturing facilities of ICT devices, but electronic wastes, coincides with the distribution of environmental and social problems of high technology.
Examples of how ICT reinforces economic growth, and at the same time, results in environmental problems are evident in a Korean context. Since the middle of the 1990s, the ICT industry has been a new growth driver in the Korean economy, and has played a critical role in restoring economic activity after the financial crisis in 1997.
Due to the rapid diffusion of ICT products and a market trend that makes the life span of the products become shorter, the amount of e-waste has drastically increased in Korea. However, society's concern over environmental problems caused by ICT is at a rudimentary stage in Korea.
Although Korea has established the EPR program to manage the e-waste problem, limited scope of e-waste items for recycling, along with defective infrastructure for recycling, such as lack of an adequate collection system, results in a much lower rate of e-waste recycling than that of the EU.
In addition, a large amount of e-waste generated from Korea is exported to Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. Although the Korean government prohibits hazardous e-waste export based on the Act on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes & Their Disposal, this policy has not been adequately implemented or enforced.
This study suggests policies which respond to the problems of e-waste and toxic ICT products that cause adverse impacts on both human beings and ecosystem within and among countries. It also looks forward to the challenges to and opportunities for building a sustainable ICT sector as part of a broader paradigm shift in the Korean society, the Asian region, and throughout the human communities.