Emerging Trends | SDG12 | SDG13
May 9, 2016

Tackling e-waste: ITU drives solutions

By Malcolm Johnson

ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson delivered the following remarks to open a joint United Nations workshop on sustainable management of e-waste during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva on May 5, 2016. Below is an excerpt of his remarks.

E-waste is generated by a wide variety of obsolete and discarded ICT devices. While these devices have brought us the benefit of new innovative technologies, they have also inflicted us with the burden of growing quantities of e-waste – a “self-created evil”.

The situation is worsened by the frequent updating and upgrading of personal devices and people constantly clamoring for the newest and latest devices.

E-waste is now one of the most rapidly growing environmental problems in both developing and developed countries.

In 2014, nearly 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste was generated and this is expected to grow to 50 million metric tons by 2018. The increasing incidents of indiscriminate e-waste dumping is the incentive for responsible management of discarded ICT devices worldwide.

Building effective partnerships

To enable better recycling we need standards and policy that set requirements for disassembly and material separation, avoidance of glue and welding, and labeling of the materials used in a product.

This is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, especially the targets under Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production, the WSIS Action Line C.7 on e-environment, and the ITU’s “Connect 2020 Agenda” which calls for minimizing the negative impact of ICTs on the environment, in particular by reducing the volume of redundant e-waste by 50% by 2020.

The relevant UN agencies need to work together and I am pleased to say we are doing so. ITU, the Secretariat of the Basel Convention, the Basel Convention Regional Centre for South America, UNU, WHO, WIPO, UNIDO, ECLAC and UNESCO have developed a report outlining the state of e-waste management in Latin America. This report offers guidance on the steps to be taken towards environmentally sustainable e-waste management.

ITU has also proposed to the UN Environmental Management Group the creation of an Issue Management Group to enhance coordination on e-waste within the UN system.

ITU standards and guidelines

As an international standards developing organization, ITU also continues to develop standards on rare metal recycling from discarded ICT devices. The recovery of precious metals and critical materials from these products represents a significant economic opportunity but often missed. For example, ton of gold ore yields just 5 g of gold, whereas a ton of used mobile phones yields a staggering 400 g of gold!

ITU through its ITU-T Study Group 5 has developed Guidelines for countries to establish sustainable e-waste management programmes and e-waste policies.



Malcolm Johnson (@ITU_DSGwas elected ITU Deputy Secretary General at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 in Busan, Republic of Korea. Mr. Johnson was elected as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in 2006 in Antalya, Turkey and was re-elected at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2010 in Guadalajara, Mexico.


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Tackling e-waste: ITU drives solutions

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