Monday, February 22, 2010

UN Report "Recycling - From E-Waste To Resources"

Feb 22 A report issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at a meeting of Basel Convention in Bali, Indonesia indicates that hazardous waste from electronic products is growing exponentially in developing countries, sometimes by as much as 500 per cent. The report, Recycling - From E-Waste to Resources, used data from 11 representative developing countries to estimate current and future e-waste generation which includes old and dilapidated desk and laptop computers, printers, mobile phones, pagers, digital photo and music devices, refrigerators, toys and televisions. The United Nations called for new recycling technologies and regulations to safeguard both public health and the environment. For the first time, the three global chemicals and wastes conventions -- Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions -- are meeting from February 22-24, 2010 [See WIMS 2/17/10].

    UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP said, "This report gives new urgency to establishing ambitious, formal and regulated processes for collecting and managing e-waste via the setting up of large, efficient facilities in China. China is not alone in facing a serious challenge. India, Brazil, Mexico and others may also face rising environmental damage and health problems if e-waste recycling is left to the vagaries of the informal sector. In addition to curbing health problems, boosting developing country e-waste recycling rates can have the potential to generate decent employment, cut greenhouse gas emissions and recover a wide range of valuable metals including silver, gold, palladium, copper and indium  [transparent conductive layers in LCD glass], -- by acting now and planning forward many countries can turn an e-challenge into an e-opportunity."

    According to the report, a variety of sources to illustrate growth of the e-waste problem: Global e-waste generation is growing by about 40 million tons a year; Manufacturing mobile phones and personal computers consumes 3 per cent of the gold and silver mined worldwide each year; 13 per cent of the palladium and 15 per cent of cobalt; Modern electronics contain up to 60 different elements -- many valuable, some hazardous, and some both.

    Additionally, carbon dioxide emissions from the mining and production of copper and precious and rare metals used in electrical and electronic equipment are estimated at over 23 million tonnes -- 0.1 percent of global emissions (not including emissions linked to steel, nickel or aluminum, nor those linked to manufacturing the devices); In the US, more than 150 million mobiles and pagers were sold in 2008, up from 90 million five years before; Globally, more than 1 billion mobile phones were sold in 2007, up from 896 million in 2006; Countries like Senegal and Uganda can expect e-waste flows from PCs alone to increase 4 to 8-fold by 2020.

    Finally, given the infrastructure expense and technology skills required to create proper facilities for efficient and environmentally sound metal recovery, the report suggests facilitating exports of critical e-scrap fractions like circuit boards or batteries from smaller countries to OECD-level, certified end-processors. The report assesses current policies, skills, waste collection networks and informal recycling in 11 representative developing economies in Asia, Africa and the Americas: i.e. China, India; South Africa, Uganda, Senegal, Kenya, Morocco; and Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, Peru. It also outlines options for sustainable e-waste management in those countries. The data includes equipment generated nationally but does not include waste imports, both legal and illegal, which are substantial in India, China and other emerging economies.

    The report recommends countries establish e-waste management centers of excellence, building on existing organizations working in the area of recycling and waste management. Existing bodies include those supported by the United Nations including the more than 40 National Cleaner Production Centers established by the UN Industrial and Development Organization and the regional centers established under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

    Access a lengthy release from UNEP with numerous links to additional information (click here). Access the complete 120-page report (click here). Access complete information on the three conventions' conference including meeting documents (click here).