Connecting the circular model of e-waste management to the sustainable development goals

11 Apr 2019 14:30h - 16:15h

Event report


In the opening remarks, the moderator Mr Bilel Jamoussi (Chief of Study Groups Department, ITU) emphasised that in 2018, we generated about 48.5 million tons of e-waste from our devices and only 20% of them were recycled. E-waste is going to reach 50 million tons this year. We still have the linear pattern in the production and consumption of devices, but there is a need for a new approach to managing e-waste by reframing the values of the entire supply chain of the ICT equipment. ITU supports the application of the circular model for e-waste management for SDG. The ITU Study Group 5 has published a set of standards dealing with e-waste management to recycle devices and extract rare metals for further use. The Study Group 5 has also developed the methodology for assessing the lifecycle of ICT equipment, as well as guidelines for operators and suppliers to implement the circular economy.

Ms Maria Cristina Cárdenas Fischer (Senior Policy and Strategy Advisor Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions Secretariat, BRS) elaborated more on the scale of e-waste build-up and the number of ICT devices. The main challenges are inadequate consumer awareness and a short lifecycle of devices, the low waste collection rate, and finally, the lack of local waste management policy. Since 2000, the Basel Secretariat and ITU have been working on international standards to regulate e-waste. This is aimed at achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) 3, 6, 11, 12, and 14.

Ms Francesca Cenni (Programme Officer, BRS) briefly showed how the Basel Convention addresses the issue of e-waste. The national legislation regulating e-waste management covers only 5 out of 7 people in the world, but often it is not even enforced. Cenni provided several insights and visualisations from the WEF report on how much e-waste countries produce annually and international routes of e-waste travelling from developed to the developing world. Further, she explained the danger of combusting unrecycled e-waste, especially for children that are exposed to the released toxic substances from the devices. The opportunities to reduce the amount of waste are to fix the broken devices, reuse them in different ways, lease or share the devices, and, finally, recycle them. The Basel Convention establishes the procedure of e-waste management that requires the consent of the disposer country for the movement of e-waste. In addition, it provides technical guidance, defines the illegal traffic of e-waste and specifies hazardous/non-hazardous waste lists. In June 2019, BRS will re-launch its massive open online courses (MOOC) on e-waste challenge.

Mr Paolo Gemma (Senior Specialist, Huawei) as a leader in the ITU Study Group 5 introduced the standard ITU-T L.1020 Circular Economy: Guide for Operators and Suppliers on approaches to migrate towards circular ICT goods and networks. It provides an optional business model for promoting the circular economy. The circular economy concentrates on maintenance, repair, direct reuse, refurbishment, re-manufacturing of parts, recycling, and energy recovery from non-recyclable materials. Gemma then shared the example of Huawei contribution to sustainable development – RuralStar to reduce the cost of rural network coverage in Kenya and Ghana and Huawei ICT academy to reduce the digital divide. Huawei also works on reducing the greenhouse effect by increasing the energy efficiency of its products, builds Solar PV powerplants in some of its facilities, and get the green certification for its several smartphones and routers. Huawei is now working on product design for the circular economy. Design should be based on recycled and secondary materials, have extended product lifespan, consists of modules easy to upgrade, repair and disassemble.

Ms Tatiana Jereissati (Coordinator, CETIC.BR) explained how ICT data production can help with e-waste management. CETIC conducts ICT standalone surveys in different sectors of society to produce the relevant ICT use indicators in Brazil and other Portuguese-speaking countries. There are 32 million computers in Brazil and 83% of the population own mobile phones, while the shared ICT devices like TVs or PCs are less used. Jereissati said the data CETIC has can help measure e-waste indicators. It provides visibility of the problem and thus helps to set the policy priorities for e-waste management.

Mr Graham Alabaster (Chief of Sanitation and Waste Management, UN-Habitat) reminded that e-waste is a part of municipal solid waste management responsibilities. However, in small and remote cities the disposal is likely to be uncontrolled, and the process of collection and recycling also varies a lot. Alabaster highlighted the importance of the link between the formal and informal (on the citizen level) management of e-waste. There are ways to improve and make the process safer by involving citizens into the primary collection and sorting of e-waste. Additionally, the cost of waste management is increasing, and it leads to illegal landfills and disposal. Alabaster also mentioned the need for advocacy campaigns for a waste-wise city that will tell its inhabitants about how much solid waste they produce, where it goes and what its fate is afterwards. This should improve the involvement of the informal sector to waste management.


By Ilona Stadnik