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Just thought I'd
take a look at the state of electronics recycling around the world to see how
According to the International
Environmental Technology Center of the United Nations Environment Program
(UNEP) the volume of e-waste is
increasing by 40 percent per year worldwide. They estimate that 80 percent of it is still going
in to landfills and incinerators. According to UNEP, e-waste is the
fastest-growing type of waste, particularly in some developing countries where
the volume is expected to grow by up to 500 percent over the next decade.
electronics recycling is a comparatively low priority in many countries. Most
countries of the world (including the U.S.) don't have a coherent national
collection infrastructure. This is true for most of Asia where the problem is
becoming critical. According to Park Young-Woo of the United Nations Environment
Program, the Asia-Pacific region now produces
more than half of global e-waste. He estimates that only 10 percent of it is
The WEEE Man is a 23 foot tall humanoid sculpture composed of three tons of electronic waste. This
represents the total amount of electronic waste that an average person in the
UK is likely to consume in their lifetime.
The great thing about Europe is that has a comprehensive and formal regional strategy on electronics recycling. The not so great thing is that each of the 27 countries of the European Union has it's own version of that strategy. The
WEEE Directive is the set of laws that governs the proper collection and
disposal of Waste Electrical
and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in the 27 countries of the European Union. It
has been developing since 2002.
The WEEE directive currently sets a minimum
collection target of 4 kg (8.8 pounds) per year per person for WEEE from
households. The latest update of the law is expected to be formally approved in
2014. The overall aim is for the EU to recycle at least 85 percent of electrical and
electronics waste equipment by 2019.
and UK are so far the leading countries with the largest recycling volumes. The UK has also just launched the first set of standards in the world on electronics refurbishment called PAS 141. Companies accredited to the PAS 141 standards, assure that used electronics devices being shipped anywhere in the world are fully functional. Switzerland was the first country
in the world to adopt an electronics
recycling system is 1991.Things are actually going pretty well in Europe. The countries of Eastern Europe that have more recently joined the EU are largely on track to develop their WEEE Directive laws.
is also a good news-bad news story. On the one hand, three countries have the
highest electronics recycling rates in the world. On the other hand, the dominant
countries of India and China are far behind.
Infographic courtesy of Fonebank
has electronics recycling
systems in seven provinces, and also their national law called the Export
and Import of Hazardous Waste and Hazardous Recyclable Material Regulations
that regulates export of e-waste to developing countries. It does have an industry
standard for proper electronics recycling and processing, and a developed
U.S. has a patchwork of laws in half of the U.S. states. It does have some Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations
around disposing of CRT monitors, but doesn’t have a national law or system for
recycling electronics. It does have a very developed electronics recycling
industry that largely adheres to two competing industrial standards called Responsible Recycling (R2) and E-Stewards. The U.S. collects and recycles
about 27 percent
of its electronics discards according to the U.S. EPA. We dispose of over
130 million cell phones every year of which 11 percent are recycled. Each U.S. household
now spends around $1,200 each year on new electronics gadgets, all of which
will be disposed of in a few years.
Africa is the poorest region in the world and there is comparatively little going on there in the way of dealing with e-waste, but there
are actually some promising developments in Africa. The UN Basel Convention sponsored the Pan-African Forum on E-Waste in Nairobi last March to get things rolling. The e-Waste Association of
South Africa (eWASA) is building
a network of e-waste recyclers and refurbishers in the country. There are no
legal structures for electronics recycling in Africa yet. Also the UN
conducted some research on used computer and electronics management in
Africa. Their studies find that about 85 percent of surplus electronics imports are
reused, not discarded. Africa's technology lifecycle for displays is two
to three times the productive use cycle in richer nations. African nations lead
the world in electronics reuse.
study finds that domestic consumption is the main contributor to Africa's growing
e-waste problem. About half of all people in Africa own mobile phones. This is similar to what is happening in Asia. Africa now has more
mobile phone users than either the U.S. or E.U. or Latin America. It is
second only to Asia. It has had 30 percent growth in mobile adoption over the last 10
has a 1 percent recycling rate for mobile phones.
countries in Latin America now have e-waste laws or rules: Costa Rica,
Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Mexico. Brazil is particularly active with its Brazilian Association of Electric and Electronic Recycling Companies and its emerging comprehensive e-scrap policy with a target of 17 percent by 2018.
One of my great heroes, Uca Silva, of the SUR Corporación de Estudios Sociales y Educación
in Chile, has long been spearheading activities to develop country specific laws
and also a regional strategy like the Guidelines for the Management of Waste
Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in Latin America. This lays out a framework
for developing a harmonized regional strategy for e-waste management like they have in Europe.
Latin America is no different than the developing countries of Asia and Africa
in its adoption of mobile phones and PCs. It now has a quarter
billion Internet users and 450 million mobile phone users. At 16 percent growth,
it is the fastest growing region in the world in adding Internet users. I don't
know what Uca is going to do to deal with the zillions of electronics devices
heading toward disposal in Latin America, but I'm glad people like her are working on the problem.
Man by Pauline Eccles, Creative Commons
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.