June 19, 2017

Better e-waste data for better e-waste policies

By Dr. Kees Baldé

More and more people are benefiting from the opportunities of the modern and digital economy and the goods and services it produces. The rapid advancement of the ICT sector means newer and more sophisticated mobile phones, laptops and/or television sets are entering the market every day and many consumers are often disposing their older gadgets for the newer models. Product lifecycles become shorter, and many designs do not support repair or reuse. As a result, the amount of electronic and electrical equipment waste, or e-waste generated is growing rapidly.

Used, broken, or obsolete electronic equipment contain substances that pose considerable environmental and health risks, especially when disposed off in uncontrolled dumps or when they are subject to recovery operations without due consideration.

Today, most of the production, management, and recycling of e-waste is not properly documented and it is not treated through appropriate recycling chains and methods.

The majority ends up in disposal sites or facilities, although many electronic products contain valuable materials, including gold that are wasted.

An important step to tackle this e-waste challenge is to track and measure the amount of e-waste. Statistics help to evaluate developments over time, set and assess targets, and identify best practices of policies. Through this, better e-waste data will also help to minimize its generation, prevent illegal dumping, promote reuse and recycling. This creates better quality jobs in the reuse, refurbishment and recycling sectors. Tracking down e-waste generation and its environmentally friendly disposal will contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 12, to ‘ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns’.

A global target to ‘reduce the volume of redundant e-waste by 50% by 2020’ was set by the ITU Membership, in 2014, at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference.

Despite the recognition of the importance of monitoring e-waste, and a set of harmonized e-waste indicators, including definitions and methodologies, only about 40 countries in the world collect internationally comparable statistics on e-waste. Existing global and regional estimates are based on production and trade statistics but should eventually be replaced by nationally produced data.

To address this problem, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN University (UNU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) have formed the Global e-Waste Statistics Partnership. The main objective of this Partnership is to build capacity to help countries produce reliable and comparable e-waste statistics, to collect data from countries and build a global e-waste database to track developments over time and to inform policy makers and industry. In November 2017, the Partnership will publish the Global e-Waste Monitor, a comprehensive report which will provide a review of the e-waste challenge and publish 2017 estimates for global e-waste quantities.

Through its work, the Partnership will further help identify recycling opportunities, identify best practices of global e-waste management. To expand its scope and accelerate progress, the Partnership is seeking to engage with other public and private partners interested in addressing the global e-waste challenge.

For further information, contact: e-waste@itu.int

Dr. Kees Baldé
Associate Programme Officer, United Nations University
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ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

Better e-waste data for better e-waste policies

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