Addressing the global e-waste challenge

16 Jun 2017 11:00h - 12:45h

Event report

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This session, moderated by Dr Rolph Payet (Executive Secretary, Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions), featured discussions on current challenges in the area of e-waste, in particular in terms of monitoring and statistics. Payet first emphasised how little we know about e-waste flows, despite their degrading effects on human health and the environment.

Ms Vanessa Gray (Head of LDCs, SIDS & Emergency Telecommunications Division, ITU) then presented the global E-waste Statistics Partnership. Launched in January 2017, this partnership was developed by the ITU with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) and the United Nations University (UNU), and aims at better measuring e-waste. In the context of the worldwide growth of ICTs, e-waste has become a critical issue since ICT products’ lifecycles have become shorter, while in general their designs do not allow for repair or re-use. Due to the pervasiveness of ICTs and the substantial risks that represents e-waste, there needs to be significant improvements in the quality of e-waste data. The rationale behind the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership is that better e-waste data will help in setting targets, identifying best practices, minimising e-waste generation, preventing illegal dumping, and promoting recycling. The private sector often lacks reliable data on e-waste at national levels, and this initiative intends to map existing opportunities in order to give greater incentives to producers and recyclers in this field.

Dr Kees Baldé (Associate Programme Officer, UNU-ViE SCYCLE) presented recent activities carried out by UNU with regard to monitoring e-waste. UNU develops policy advice, quantification studies, capacity building, and training activities; and facilitates international dialogue on these issues. For Baldé, e-waste includes a large variety of products, usually with a plug or battery.  To make reliable statistics on e-waste, flows are the variables that need to be measured. Thus, data sources for e-waste should include sales and stocks of products, in order to estimate e-waste generation and treatment in the world. Official statistics on e-waste are only available in Europe, but pilot studies conducted by UNU show that recycling rates are very low everywhere, even in the more developed countries.

Mr Antonis Mavropolous (President, ISWA) presented the vision of ISWA concerning the challenges and needs of the e-waste management sector. Mavropolous emphasised that the technical know-how for recycling e-waste is not equally distributed between countries, which is problematic in light of the generalisation of electronic products worldwide. For Mavropolous, traditional waste management systems are inadequate for tackling current e-waste challenges. The fourth industrial revolution provides us with better ways to deal with e-waste, in light of the emergence of robotics, driverless cars, recycling social networks, and collaborative business models. For Mavropolous, ‘wearables’ will constitute the next great challenges for waste management and it is crucial to already engage with producers in order to ensure wearables will be designed taking into account existing e-waste challenges.

Mr Daniel Hinchliffe (Advisor, GIZ) presented the actions of the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) with regard to e-waste management. GIZ’s main priorities consist in supporting the development of legislation for environmentally sound e-waste management systems, favouring inclusive business models which enable partnerships between ‘informal’ and formal recycling systems, and supporting the set-up of take-back systems and financing instruments. Currently, GIZ carries out two specific projects on sustainable management of e-waste, a global advisory project and a new bilateral project in Ghana. Hinchliffe reiterated the call for better e-waste statistics since most are currently inadequate across the world, in particular due to the informal nature of the flows. Therefore GIZ focuses on building capacities in developing countries for tracking e-waste flows. In Nigeria, GIZ is currently supporting the ‘Person-in-the-Port’ project, consisting in having an expert in the port of Lagos to collect information on actual flows of e-waste.

Dr Sandip Chatterjee (Secretary, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, India) dealt with the issue of e-waste management from the perspective of the Indian government and its efforts to conduct an e-waste inventory in India. Chatterjee emphasised the growing number of electronic goods in India, due to the accelerated pace of consumers’ demand. Mobile phones are becoming prevalent in India’s economy, which is now the fourth largest in the world. India’s government has adopted in 2016 e-waste management rules aimed at tackling the steady growth of e-waste in all Indian states. These rules concern all major stakeholders (including producers, dismantlers, recyclers, and consumers) and introduce liabilities for damages caused to the environment and for ‘improper’ e-waste management.


by Clément Perarnaud