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Acute concern for health, environment highlighted at UN-backed E-waste Academy in Latin America

United Nations University


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Credit: UN University

Acute concerns about e-waste management in developing countries were highlighted in expert presentations at a recent E-waste Academy for Managers (EWAM) in El Salvador.

Organized by UN University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) hosted Step (Solving the E-Waste Program) Initiative, in cooperation with Basel Convention Regional Center for Central America and Mexico (BCRC-CAM), which hosted the event and is deeply involved in the definition of regional e-waste strategy for Central America, the week-long Academy ended April 4 was the second in a series inaugurated in Ghana in 2012.

Though it receives far less foreign e-waste than Africa and Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean is a significant and growing destination for the industrialized world's discarded refrigerators, small home appliances, TVs, mobile phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and other products with a battery or electrical cord.

And the region's fast-growing middle class is buying more electronic and electrical equipment first-hand with rising purchasing power and living standard expectations. According to the World Bank, in the past decade the middle class in the region grew 50% and represents 32% of the population, for the first time in regional history surpassing the number of poor.

UNU and StEP data shows per capita e-waste generation in the region's 30 countries averaged 7.5 kilos in 2013, led by the Bahamas with 19.1 kilos per capita. By 2017, regional per capita generation is expected to rise almost 19% to 8.9 kilos in 2017.

Only about one-third of the countries of South America, Latin America and the Caribbean have regulatory instruments related to e-waste (Brazil has the most, followed by Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Costa Rica), though others are proposing or actively working on specific legislative bills.

The UNU and Step e-waste academies are valuable for researchers, government decision makers and recyclers as others in the broader Step community. Step experts provide experience and knowledge to participants who, in turn, share concerns and challenges in their efforts to address e-waste in a developing country context.

E-waste is one of the fastest-growing components of the global waste stream. The UNU-IAShosted Step Initiative recently released data in the first-ever global e-waste map showing that by 2017 the annual mountain of e-waste will be 65.4 million tonnes in all, one-third higher than 2012 levels.

Background: the Step E-waste Academy - Managers Edition

Organized by the UNU-hosted Solving the E-waste Problem (Step) Initiative, the pioneering E-waste Academies for policymakers and small and medium enterprises (EWAM) and scientists (EWAS) aim to foster and sustain multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaboration, examining the e-waste issue in its entirety, rather than through the lens of a specific discipline.

In addition to expert lectures and presentation on topics ranging from e-waste related policy and sociology issues to technology and economics, the week-long academy program includes group projects and site visits.

Participants include representatives from small and medium enterprises in developing countries - mostly recyclers and refurbishers - as well as key policymakers and government officials.

The Academy in El Salvador, was sponsored by EMPA/SECO, NVMP Foundation, US-EPA, Nokia, GeSI, HP, Dell, UNIDO and World Loop, convened:

  • 21 participants from 10 countries of South America, Central America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Peru, Trinidad and Uruguay)

  • 3 participants from Africa (Burundi and South Africa)

  • 14 experts from such institutions as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the US Environment Protection Agency, the World Resources Forum in Switzerland and precious metal recycler UMICORE in Belgium, and

  • 7 facilitators from IT manufacturers (Dell, Hewlett Packard and Nokia), as well as the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).


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Kazuhiko Takemoto, Director UNU-IAS:

"There is great opportunity in the e-waste recycling industry -- a sector valued at US$ 9.8 billion in 2012 expected to reach over US$ 40 billion before the end of the decade. 'Waste management' is being reinvented as 'resource management' because the resources are just too valuable to squander."

Ruediger Kuehr, Executive Secretary of the Step (Solving the E-Waste Problem) Initiative & Head of UNU-IAS SCYCLE, both based in Bonn, Germany:

"To achieve efficient, environmentally-sound recycling, we need the means to produce reusable waste fractions in ways appropriate to local circumstances with the benefit of international strengths and advice, as well as markets for the recycled components."

Federico Magalini of UNU-IAS SCYCLE, co-ordinator of the E-waste Academy - Managers Edition series:

"What's called a "best of two worlds" approach is needed: efficient pre-processing in developing countries and maximised recovery of materials and proper treatment of residual waste in countries with the best technologies for the job, with proceeds shared fairly and equitably."

United Nations University and UNU-IAS

The United Nations University (UNU) is a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organization headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. The mission of UNU is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and Member States.

United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) is a leading research and teaching institute. Its mission is to advance efforts towards a more sustainable future, through policy-oriented research and capacity development focused on sustainability and its social, economic and environmental dimensions. UNU-IAS serves the international community, making valuable and innovative contributions to high-level policymaking and debates within the UN system. In Europe UNU-IAS operates through its Bonn (Germany) based Operating Unit SCYCLE, especially focusing on the sustainable production, usage and disposal of ubiquitous goods.

Step Initiative

Step is an international initiative comprised of manufacturers, recyclers, academics, governments and other organizations committed to solving the world's waste electrical and electronic - e-waste - problem. By providing a forum for discussion among stakeholders, Step is actively sharing information, seeking answers and implementing solutions.

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