An end to electronic waste: Building the e-waste oalition

10 Apr 2019 13:30h - 15:00h

Event report


The session was opened by two brief statements from Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union [ITU]) and Mr Rolph Payet (Executive Secretary, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions [BRS]). Zhao started by explaining the challenges that the growing information society is encountering. He said that there is a rising amount of e-waste which presents challenges to the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

According to him, ITU has a number of e-waste activities and programmes in the area of capacity building. He mentioned the green ICT standards and said that the E-Waste Coalition has been defining its core functions and rules. Finally, he also noted the problem of addressing these e-waste challenges in the ITU.

Payet said that the coalition has been formed to enhance co-ordination and collaboration on e-waste including the future for electronics in a certain economy as a way of tackling the e-waste challenge and also achieveing SDGs.

He explained that e-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. It is estimated this waste stream reach close to 50 million metric tons in 2018. Globally, our societies only collect about 20% of e-waste and there is little data on what happens to the rest. Which for the most part, ends up in landfills or is disposed of by informal workers in poor conditions. If nothing is done, the amount of e-waste will exceed the double amount it was in 2015.

Finally, Payet said that we are gathered here today in order to bring more attention to this issue and explore strategies and opportunities to shift from this system, from the current throwaway model in our society to one that is more circular.

The session was moderated by Ms Antonia Gawel (Head of Circular Economy Initiatives, World Economic Forum [WEF]). She asked the panellists how we can really raise awareness on an issue like e-waste? We know there is a challenge and an opportunity to be tapped. Raising awareness, attention ofleaders engaged politically from the private sector.

Ms Maria Neira (Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants, World Health Organization [WHO]) started by explaining that we can tackle e-waste issues. She noted that at the moment, there is a meeting with experts looking at how microplastics will affect human health. Similarly, here we’re looking at how e-waste will have an impact on human health. According to her, we need to look for the right arguments and have motivation, more political interest, more visibility, more understanding of this issue. She added even among the public health officers, there is still a lack of knowledge in terms of why we need to be involved. She further argued that one reason is because this is an emerging issue.

As an example, she said that when you put a child to collect or recycle all the little pieces that goes into our old computers, refrigerators, iPhone etc., they will be suffering at most. She explained that when you are a child, there is a very special window of vulnerability because your central nervous system, immune system, all of the systems that you rely to survive, digestive system, everything are under development. This is a particular moment you should not be exposed to risk. This is where the children are exposed. Finally, she said that the health argument can be the one that will be provide this motivation, this awareness raising that we do not have at the moment.

Mr Oliver Boachie (Special Advisor to Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation) explained that Ghana is presented with major challenges when it comes to waste management in general and e-waste in particular. In fact, if one has been following the many ways of electronic waste around the world, Ghana has gained very unfortunate reputation as maybe the largest e-waste dump site in the world. He argued that it is an erroneous reputation that is tagged to Ghana. According to him, these challenges have motivated the government of Ghana to take very bold steps in the last few years.

Boachie explained that we want to make sure that we have a clean environment. At the same time, we want to ensure that we develop very sustainable business models within the e-waste value chain. He also explained that there is a legislative instrument, LI2250, which defines the guidelines and regulations to implement this national program.

Furthermore, he added while they put in infrastructure and other structures in place to implement the law, they are also engaged in a very huge and significant development project with the government of Germany. That is helping on two fronts; they are providing technical assistance for Ghana to deal with e-waste, and helping train people to build or develop new business models within the value chain. Moreover, he said that they are building capacity for the informal sector which is a very big segment of those who are within the value chain.

In conclusion, he mentioned the financial co-operation agreement with the government of Germany and building infrastructure to help or motivate the mass collectors of e-waste to bring them to collection points instead of taking them to dump sites and burning them to extract what they think are valuables out of the waste.

Mr Graham Alabaster (Chief of Section, Sanitation and Waste Management, UN-Habitat) started by explaining when UN-Habitat started work on solid waste, probably 20 or so years ago, there was a lesser focus on the environment, but much more on the operational cost of waste management.

Moreover, he said that a lot of the technical assistance was given towards landfill management, refuse collection, and a little bit to landfill management. He added that things started to move and UN-Habitat is more involved. He also mentioned the first report on solid waste in 2010. Furthermore, he noted one example on the Africa clean cities platform in co-operation with the government of Japan, which serves as a platform to co-operate on training and capacity building on waste management of all forms.

In conclusion, he talked about how they are trying to encourage communities, those who produce waste to think about the impact on the environment. He highlighted the costs of environmental issues in some countries. Finally, he said that there are huge arguments to support the work on e-waste, that is why UN-Habitat is interested in being a key partner and was happy to join the coalition.

Mr Anders Aeroe (Division of Enterprises and Institutions, ITC) pointed to e-waste and said that it is the crossroads of environmental, social challenges. It is also at a crossroad of entrepreneurial opportunities if handled well, that is where we think we have something to offer to the coalition. According to him, tackling e-waste and making small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) production more sustainable is close to what you would like to contribute to in ICT. He talked about the experience in working with entrepreneurs and SMEs, and the particular relation to e-waste in linking informal and formal enterprises in a better manner. He added a lot of handling of e-waste happens in informal areas and outside of oversight, which causes issues known to those operating there and the risk of society.

Furthermore, he said that they cannot address the e-waste issue and exploit the opportunities in a piecemeal manner. It requires a holistic approach to things. Finally, he mentioned a lack of current measurement for the majority of e-waste and there is about 80% unaccounted for. What is missing is to exploit this opportunity.

Ms Vivian Ahiayibor Meinel (Managing Director, City Waste Recycling Ltd, Ghana) explained the work of her company. City Waste Recycling (CWR) is the multipurpose enterprise that does not see waste as waste but as resources. She explained that they offer resources from a wide source of problematic waste in general. There are e-waste, gas, plastic recycling, and soda containers to mention a few. She highlighted that CWR won an award as an innovative enterprise. Most of the models are being piloted in certain African countries. Furthermore, she said that there is a part of the EU project in Ghana in its first phase, where they identify various players in the e-waste sector.

In conclusion, Ahiayibor Meinel noted that e-waste is an opportunity for the Ghanaian people. She emphasised in order to go forward, we have to create jobs and reduce the poverty in the region. Therefore, according to her, this can also curb illegal immigration.


By Gilles D. Bana