News Release

UN report: E-waste in Eastern Europe/Caucasus/Central Asia jumps ~50% in a decade; just 3.2% collected, treated

UN publishes 1st regional e-waste report for Commonwealth of Independent States + Georgia

Reports and Proceedings

United Nations University

Cover of the UN's “Regional E-waste Monitor CIS + Georgia 2021”

image: Electronic waste generated in the Commonwealth of Independent States + Georgia rose by 50% between 2010 and 2019, roughly the world average, but overall just 3.2% was collected and safely managed, well below the 17.4% average worldwide, according to the UN’s first report dedicated to the e-waste issue in the 12 former Soviet Union countries. view more 

Credit: UNU / UNITAR

Electronic waste generated in the Commonwealth of Independent States + Georgia rose by 50% between 2010 and 2019, roughly the world average, but overall just 3.2% was collected and safely managed, well below the 17.4% average worldwide, according to the UN’s first report dedicated to the e-waste issue in the 12 former Soviet Union countries.

The regional e-waste total jumped from 1.7 Mt to 2.5 Mt (an average 8.7 kg per citizen), with Russia generating the most e-waste in both absolute and per inhabitant terms.

The findings are published in the first-ever “Regional E-waste Monitor, CIS + Georgia,” produced by the Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme, co-hosted by the UN University (UNU) and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), in partnership with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to the study, the region’s e-waste spans a variety of products but three categories dominate: temperature exchange equipment (e.g. heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration units), and large equipment (e.g. washing machines or ovens) and small equipment (e.g. kitchen equipment or vacuum cleaners) account for 77%.

The annual growth rate in the region has slowed in nearly all categories but remains positive. Only screens and monitors, and small IT equipment, show negative growth rates.

“E-waste constitutes one of the fastest growing waste streams in today’s global environment and poses a significant threat to both health and sustainable development,” says Ruediger Kuehr, Director of the Sustainable Cycles Programme (SCYCLE).

“However, few countries collect internationally comparable e-waste statistics, and many countries lack the capacity to collect e-waste data at both the regional and national level. We need this data to track changes over time, establish national and international policies, limit e-waste generation, prevent illegal dumping, and promote recycling.”

This Regional E-waste Monitor for the CIS + Georgia is the first of its kind, reviewing e-waste statistics, legislation, and management, created with the aim of enhancing understanding and interpretation of the problem and facilitating the environmentally sound management of e-waste.”

“Such a summary allows for international comparisons and contributes to the development of more effective regional e-waste management systems,” he adds.

10 tonnes of gold

Co-author Kees Balde of the United Nations University underlines that managing e-waste could be an economic opportunity in the region by creating enterprises and thus jobs in the recycling sector.

E-waste generated in the CIS + Georgia in 2019 alone contained 10 tonnes of gold, half a tonne of rare earth metals, 1 million tonnes of iron, 85,000 tonnes of copper, 136,000 tonnes of aluminum, and 700 tonnes of cobalt – representing a total value of US $2.6 billion in secondary raw materials.

Meanwhile, hazardous substances in the region’s 2019 e-waste included at least 2.4 tonnes of mercury, 1.1 tonnes of cadmium, 8,100 tonnes of lead, and 4,000 tonnes of brominated flame retardants -- threats to human and environmental health.

“E-waste collection rates need to increase across countries in the region, just as they need to increase elsewhere across the world,” says Dr. Balde. “This improvement can be realised through mandatory handover of e-waste to licenced facilities. Also needed are mandatory reporting obligations for all actors collecting e-waste.”

UBA president Dirk Messner emphasizes that “E-waste is one of the most challenging waste streams all over the world. The amount of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market is rising constantly and thus e-waste does. In Germany we, too, are facing the challenge to boost our collection rates to treat e-waste in the proper way. Policy makers worldwide need a comprehensive analysis of the e-waste situation – both regionally and on a national level. We are happy that through the Advisory Assistance Programme (APP) we have supported this important project. It has been a fruitful exchange and knowledge transfer for both sides.”

Other key findings in the report:

  • Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) placed on the market in the region increased by 10% — from 2.9 Mt (10.4 kg/inh) in 2010 to 3.2 Mt (11.0 kg/inh) in 2019.
  • The CIS+ countries collected and managed 79 kt (0.3 kg/inh) of e-waste in 2019 - 3.2% of the e-waste generated -- and most of the rest ends up in landfills, with informal recyclers cherry picking some valuable components.
  • Belarus and Russia have large domestic EEE production industries; the other countries mostly import the EEE placed on the market.
  • E-waste collection for environmentally sound management takes place in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine.
  • Belarus has the highest e-waste collection per inhabitant and a collection rate: 33.6% (2.7 kg/inh), followed by Kazakhstan (8.8%; 0.6 kg/inh).
  • Some countries (e.g. Georgia, Kyrgyzstan) have no e-waste collection due to a lack of organised, separate collection infrastructure for e-waste (and/or lack official data).
  • All 12 countries in the region have well-developed legal and regulatory waste management frameworks, but 6 have no specific legislation nor Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) systems
  • Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have adopted e-waste-specific legislation or regulation
  • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia regulate e-waste through bylaws in national legislation (i.e. specifically mentioning e-waste in their general waste law)
  • Armenia and Ukraine are drafting Extended Producer Responsibility systems for e-waste, and Uzbekistan has drafted e-waste legislation
  • In most countries, the Ministry of Environment is the responsible government entity. Municipalities and other waste management authorities, as well as state-owned private companies, collect e-waste for further management, mostly landfilling
  • Producers/importers also collect e-waste under the EPR, but informal operators also exist in the region and focus on valuable e-waste fractions

The report notes several initiatives and campaign strategies created in the region to create awareness of e-waste collection and recycling with active participation from both the public and private sectors. In some of the 12 countries, the projects and initiatives are conceived and driven by NGOs’ foreign donor funds. These projects that were mapped do not comprise a complete overview in the region, but nonetheless focus on:

  • Establishing legal measures
  • National studies to map the e-waste situation
  • Initiatives to increase e-waste collection points
  • Initiatives to export e-waste for environmentally sound management
  • Awareness raising campaigns

The report calls on the 12 countries in the region to:

  • Introduce and enforce a robust legal and policy framework focused on environmentally sound management of e-waste, or
  • Monitor and reinforce existing systems to make them more efficient and effective

Also called for:

  • Adequate financing of the systems, monitoring, and cooperation of all stakeholders -- essential for ensuring that the policies setup for e-waste management is sustained.
  • Strengthened transnational cooperation to reduce the burden of large investments

The report concludes with detailed individual country profiles and elaborates on seven recommendations, headlined:

  • Prevent more
  • Be more aware
  • Collect more
  • Pollute less
  • Pay adequately
  • Work more safely, and
  • Train more

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Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) encompasses all products powered by a battery or plug, including laptops, mobile phones, servers, fridges, washing machines, dishwashers, cooking and other kitchen appliances, many toys, and musical instruments. EEE is increasing rapidly, and spreading quickly in emerging sectors such as electric transport, clean energy production, and smart cities, which base their services on EEE and sensors.

The Regional E-waste Monitor for the CIS + Georgia is produced by the Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programmeco-hosted by the United Nations University (UNU) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The project was funded by the German Federal Environment Ministry’s Advisory Assistance Programme (AAP) for environmental protection in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia and other countries neighbouring the European Union. It was supervised by the German Environment Agency (UBA). Workshops during the project were co-funded by the International Telecommunication Union and the International Solid Waste Association and were co-organised by UNEP.

The German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt, UBA) is Germany’s central environmental authority. It employs more than 1,400 people at 13 locations. In addition to ‘purely scientific work’, the enforcement of environmental law – for example the Chemicals Act or the Plant Protection Act - and providing information to the general public about environmental protection issues are key areas of the agency‘s daily work. UBA is a partner and point of contact in Germany for a number of international institutions, for instance the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Environment Agency.

UBA supports the development of human resources and institutional capacities in the environmental sector in its partner countries in a variety of ways. The purpose of the Advisory Assistance Programme (AAP) is the exchange and transfer of knowledge and experience to the target region in order to strengthen environmental administration bodies, raise environmental standards and prepare for environmental investments. UNU’s and UNITAR’s project that provides the 1st regional e-waste report for Commonwealth of Independent States + Georgia fits ideally into these goals.

United Nations University (UNU) is an autonomous component of the UN General Assembly dedicated to generating and transferring knowledge and strengthening capacities relevant to global issues of human security, development, and welfare. The University
operates through a worldwide network of research and training centres and programmes, coordinated by the UNU Centre in Tokyo.

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) is a dedicated training arm of the United Nations, with a mission of developing the individual, institutional, and organisational capacity of countries and other United Nations stakeholders through high quality learning solutions and related knowledge products and services as a means for enhancing global decision-making and providing support at the country level in overcoming global challenges.

The SCYCLE Programme, in transition from UNU to UNITAR, envisions enabling societies to reduce the environmental load from production, use, and disposal of ubiquitous goods, especially EEE, to sustainable levels by means of independent, comprehensive, and practical research and training, providing more thorough fact bases for policy development and decision making. SCYCLE leads the global e-waste research and related trainings, and advances sustainable e-waste management strategies based on life-cycle thinking.

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