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Global perspectives on e-waste

TitleGlobal perspectives on e-waste
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsWidmer R, Oswald-Krapf H, Sinha-Khetriwal D, Schnellmann M, Boni H
Journal TitleEnvironmental Impact Assessment Review
Volume25
Pages436-458
Accession NumberISI:000230181700002
KeywordsE-waste assessment methodology, E-waste initiatives, Extended producer responsibility, Informal sector, Transboundary e-waste movement, Waste management, WEEE
AbstractElectronic waste, or e-waste, is an emerging problem as well as a business opportunity of increasing significance, given the volumes of e-waste being generated and the content of both toxic and valuable materials in them. The fraction including iron, copper, aluminium, gold and other metals in e-waste is over 60%, while pollutants comprise 2.70%. Given the high toxicity of these pollutants especially when burned or recycled in uncontrolled environments, the Basel Convention has identified e-waste as hazardous, and developed a framework for controls on transboundary movement of such waste. The Basel Ban, an amendment to the Basel Convention that has not yet come into force, would go one step further by prohibiting the export of e-waste from developed to industrializing countries.Section 1 of this paper gives readers an overview on the e-waste topic—how e-waste is defined, what it is composed of and which methods can be applied to estimate the quantity of e-waste generated. Considering only PCs in use, by one estimate, at least 100 million PCs became obsolete in 2004. Not surprisingly, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) today already constitutes 8% of municipal waste and is one of the fastest growing waste fractions. Section 2 provides insight into the legislation and initiatives intended to help manage these growing quantities of e-waste. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is being propagated as a new paradigm in waste management. The European Union’s WEEE Directive, which came into force in August of 2004, makes it incumbent on manufacturers and importers in EU states to take back their products from consumers and ensure environmentally sound disposal. WEEE management in industrializing countries has its own characteristics and problems, and therefore this paper identifies some problems specific to such countries. The risky process of extracting copper from printed wiring boards is discussed as an example to illustrate the hazards of the e-waste recycling industry in India.The WEEE Knowledge Partnership programme funded by seco (Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs) and implemented by Empa has developed a methodology to assess the prevailing situation, in order to better understand the opportunities and risks in pilot urban areas of three countries—Beijing-China, Delhi-India and Johannesburg-South Africa. The three countries are compared using an assessment indicator system which takes into account the structural framework, the recycling system and its various impacts. Three key points have emerged from the assessments so far: a) e-waste recycling has developed in all countries as a market based activity, b) in China and India it is based on small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the informal sector, whereas in South Africa it is in the formal sector, and c) each country is trying to overcome shortcomings in the current system by developing strategies for improvement.
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