January 28, 2013

ITU tackles the mounting problem of e-waste

By Bilel Jamoussi

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the electronics industry have revolutionized the world, and as a result electrical and electronic products have become globally ubiquitous.

The widespread use of electrical and electronic equipment has had many positive effects, empowering people to communicate and providing them with access to information across geographical, linguistic and cultural barriers.

However, the proliferation of ICT equipment is also having negative environmental and health effects associated with the inefficient waste management of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment (e-waste).

As a result, there have been alarming reports of e-waste mismanagement in many countries, particularly in less developed nations and countries with economies in transition, which might not have access to the sophisticated waste disposal systems enjoyed by richer nations.

E-waste is a significant contributor to the ICT industry’s impact on the environment, and urgent global action to address this issue is essential if the industry is to fulfill its commitment to a sustainable future.

As the United Nations specialized agency for Information and communication technology, ITU is committed to helping the industry it serves adapt to the new challenges of a fast-evolving environment.

That’s why our members have charged us with working to develop viable solutions in the area of responsible e-waste management, environmental impact and climate change.

Initiatives for 2013 include:

● The launch of the Green ICT App Challenge in partnership with Spanish broadband and telecommunications service provider Telefónica  and with the support of UNU, StEP and BlueVia, to uncover innovative ICT approaches and applications geared to addressing global environmental issues in cities and urban areas.   Applications are open until 30 June 2013.
● A joint ITU and UNEP training workshop on e-waste scheduled for March 2013 in El Salvador.
● A dedicated session on e-waste at the ITU Symposium on ICTs n May 2013 in Turin, Italy.
● An event highlighting the issues of e-waste during Green Standards Week, organized by ITU, UNU, StEP, UNEP and CEDARE, taking place in Madrid, Spain in September 2013.

These upcoming events and initiatives organized by ITU and our partners build on the momentum  of the agreement at WTSA-12 on a Resolution on e-waste, giving further impetus to ITU’s standardization work on the subject and mandating ITU’s standardization and development sectors, ITU-T and ITU-D, to assist Member States in instituting policy frameworks that limit e-waste’s negative environmental effects.
In addition, work on Question 13 within ITU-T Study Group 5 “Environment and Climate Change” has generated a number of important new international technical standards including ITU-T L.1000, 1001 and 1100.

ITU-T L.1000 ‘Universal Charger’ (Universal power adapter and charger solution for mobile terminals and other hand-held ICT devices) sets out technical specifications for a universal charger compatible with a wide variety of consumer electronic devices, reducing waste and improving user convenience.

When fully implemented around the world, the new standard will eliminate an estimated 82,000 tonnes of redundant chargers and at least 13.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

In the same vein, ITU-T Recommendation L.1001 (External universal power adapter solutions for stationary information and communication technology devices) establishes technical specifications for a universal power adapter (UPA) designed to serve the vast majority of ICT devices.

The standard will substantially reduce the number of power adapters that need to be manufactured by widening their application to more devices, enabling their reuse and extending their lifetime, as well as cutting energy consumption and reducing the volume of e-waste.

Rare metals are essential to the high-end functionality of ICT products, and the ICT industry has reached a level of sophistication where it is impossible to omit these metals from product design. A mobile phone contains no less than 20 rare metals, and the need to recycle these metals is clear – a tonne of gold ore yields just 5 grammes of gold, whereas a tonne of used mobile phones yields a staggering 400 grammes.

Recommendation ITU-T L.1100 (Method to provide recycling information of rare metals in ICT products) details the necessity of rare-metal recycling and the procedures to be employed when recycling. The recommendation outlines key considerations in all phases of the recycling process, and provides guidelines as to how organizations may fairly and transparently report on rare-metal recycling.

All ITU-T Recommendations are available here.

Work on other green standards is continuing within ITU-T Study Group 5, which meets again in Geneva from 29 January to 7 February 2013.

In addition to its ground-breaking standardization work, in 2012 ITU published a Toolkit on End of Life Management for ICT Equipment as part of the Toolkit on Environmental Sustainability for the ICT Sector, developed by ITU-T in partnership with over 50 ICT companies and environmental organizations. The Toolkit was one of sixteen new reports launched at ITU’s 2nd Green Standards Week.

All reports are available here.

ITU’s initiatives, standards-making work and programs for 2013 and beyond will establish a solid international platform for the exchange of e-waste information and best practices, as well as providing channels for promoting collaborative work in the future.

For more information on other ITU activities on the subject of managing e-waste, please visit the following link.

Dr Bilel Jamoussi is Chief of the Study Groups Department at the International Telecommunication Union Standardization Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland where he is responsible for the organization and management of the ITU-T Study Groups, Focus Groups, Global Standardization Initiatives and Joint Coordination Activities.
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ITU tackles the mounting problem of e-waste

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