As the use of electrical equipment continues to increase, the amount of electronic waste (e-waste) produced daily is equally growing. This creates an enormous problem of global proportions. To spread awareness of the appropriate disposal of electrical and electronic equipment globally, the second International E-Waste Day will take place on 14 October 2019.
E-waste, which includes discarded cell phones, computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos and other electronic equipment items, contains some valuable elements, like copper and gold. The recycling of these elements has become a source of revenue, most often in the informal sector of developing or emerging industrialised countries.
Only 20% of e-waste recycled globally each year
Two-thirds of the world’s population is covered by e-waste legislation. However, only 20% of the e-waste produced every year is recycled, according to the UN. That means that in excess of 40 tonnes of e-waste ends up in landfills, is burned or illegally traded and disposed of in a sub-standard manner every year.
As a result, a large amount of valuable raw materials are lost from the supply chain. In addition, the illegal shipment of waste to developing countries is a cause of serious health, environmental and societal issues. Primitive recycling techniques, such as burning cables in order to obtain the copper it contains, exposes recyclers and their families to hazardous substances, which poses serious health risks.
Direct contact with harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls, the inhalation of toxic fumes, as well as the accumulation of chemicals in soil, water and food poses serious health risks to recyclers, their families and their communities. In addition, the dismantling of electrical equipment is dangerous and poses an increased risk of injury.
International E-waste Day
International E-waste Day encourages users to repair, rather than replace their appliances – or to correctly dispose of appliances in order to increase re-use, recovery and recycling rates. International E-Waste Day is the brainchild of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum, an international association of e-waste collection schemes, and its members.
In 2018, over 50 organisations from more than 40 countries around the globe were involved. These countries organised various types of promotional activities – from social media competitions, conferences and workshops to school and street collection campaigns and online guides and games.
“The volume of e-waste is continually increasing,” says Pascal Leroy, director general of the WEEE Forum. “While consumer awareness of how to dispose of e-waste correctly is improving, it is still a struggle to ensure that e-waste is collected and treated by organisations with the correct facilities and through the appropriate channels,” he adds.
E-waste – the fastest-growing global waste stream
Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, said that International E-Waste Day is exactly the sort of initiative that is needed in Europe. “E-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream globally. Europe produces more of this waste than anywhere else in the world. But, e-waste isn’t really waste, it’s a valuable resource and far too often it goes to waste. When we recycle this type of waste, it benefits the environment, it benefits the industry and it is beneficial for job creation,” he says.
New collection targets for 2019 will see a minimum WEEE collection rate of 65% of the average weight of appliances placed on the market in the three preceding years – or, alternatively, 85% of WEEE generated. This will ensure that approximately 10 million tonnes, or an estimated 20 kg per capita, will be collected separately.
This goal will only be achievable with the cooperation of consumers. As the current lack of public awareness is preventing countries from developing circular economies for electronic equipment, consumer education around e-waste and WEEE recycling is absolutely crucial. All stakeholders interested in e-waste concerns are invited by the WEEE Forum to participate in this year’s International E-waste Day on 19 October.
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