Seven United Nations (UN) entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum (WEF), and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges.
The entities called for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system, and reduce yearly waste of resources with a value greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries.
Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — more than the weight of all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth $62.5 billion, significantly above the GDP of most countries.
Less than 20 per cent of this is recycled formally, while informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone), work to dispose the e-waste, most of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment.
In a report, “A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,” launched in Davos, Switzerland, recently, the UN said technologies such as cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialisation” of the electronics industry.
Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking, and manufacturer or retailer take-back programmes.
The report noted that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production, while also creating millions of decent jobs worldwide.
The joint report called for multi-sector collaboration, to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced, and decent work is created for millions.
The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes: International Labour Organisation (ILO); International Telecommunication Union (ITU); United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO); UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); United Nations University (UNU), and secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm Conventions (BRS).
The Coalition is supported by the WBCSD and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).
Considerable work is being done to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, even as the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and UN Environment announced a $2 million investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria.
The new investment will leverage over $13 million in additional financing from the private sector. Already, ILO estimates that up to 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector in Nigeria.
As such, the investment will help to create a system, which formalises these workers, giving them safe and decent employment, while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste.
Commenting, Secretary-General, ITU, Houlin Zhao, said: “ITU has been raising awareness and guiding efforts to reduce and rethink e-waste since 2011. So I am delighted to see that a movement to promote a circular economy for electronics is now gaining ground. Together, with newly created partnerships such as the United Nations E-waste Coalition, we can transform waste into wealth, and deliver development benefits to all.”
Similarly, President/CEO, WBCSD, Peter Bakker, said: “Global e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream, and presents societal and environmental risk. This summary clearly lays out why we must act at scale, now, and collaborate between business, international organisations, governments and NGOs. WBCSD is committed, through Factor10, and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, to achieving a world where waste has no place.”
UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organisations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).