Electrical and electronic waste, or e-waste, is a growing challenge all around the world. But what is e-waste? It can be defined simply as items of all types of electrical and electronic equipment and its parts that have been discarded by the owner as waste without the intention of re-use (Step, 2014). The effects on human health and the environment of this type of pollution are far from simple. The United Nations Environment Management Group has long been addressing this, and continues to advocate and raise awareness about e-waste.
E-waste is not just limited to phones and computers, it also includes all household appliances, such as refrigerators, washing machines, and toasters. Many of these appliances are discarded as waste, ultimately ending up in landfills. In the United States alone 70% of heavy metals found in landfills come from discarded electronics. Today, the lifespan of many devices is diminishing. They are discarded and replaced by newer versions and improved technology leading to shorter fashion cycles and even more production, consumption and waste. Ultimately, many old devices still have a use and value.
Key components of these discarded electronics, such as printed circuit boards, contain many harmful chemicals. At the same time, chemicals such as mercury are used to rudimentary processing techniques to extract precious materials. When not properly managed, chemicals can find their way into the air, and soil and water ways, effectively ruining the surrounding environment.
At the Environment Management Group Senior Officials Meeting in September, UN organisations discussed the E-waste Coalition which is currently being developed, and coordinated by the EMG Secretariat. On the backdrop of growing challenges faced by Member States to manage e-waste, the Coalition will provide a global platform for support with this issue. Following the publication of two major reports in 2017: Global E-waste Monitor, and the UN System-wide Response to Tackling E-waste, a Letter of Intent was signed by several organisations active in addressing e-waste. Discussions at the Senior Officials Meeting about the need for a circular economy, support for small and medium-sized enterprises and dialogue between governments and the electronics industry, all reinforced the value of the E-waste Coalition as a global platform in the making.
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