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Grappling With an Avalanche of Waste

 Electronic waste viewed by a delegation from Zimbabwe that visited the Rwanda Green Fund - FONERWA - to learn about the fund's structure and operations. They toured some of the fund's investments: low carbon construction materials with Zero Carbon Designs and the E-Waste Recycling Facility. June 14, 2018 (Photo by Rwanda Green Fund) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Electronic waste viewed by a delegation from Zimbabwe that visited the Rwanda Green Fund – FONERWA – to learn about the fund’s structure and operations. They toured some of the fund’s investments: low carbon construction materials with Zero Carbon Designs and the E-Waste Recycling Facility. June 14, 2018 (Photo by Rwanda Green Fund) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, October 9, 2018 ((Maximpact.com News) – Due to the growing volume of plastic waste now being produced and the plastic waste import ban imposed by China on December 31, 2017, plastic wastes, primarily from Europe, Japan, and North America, are now adrift on the global market. They have been arriving in the ports of countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia in alarming amounts.

The plastic scrap is often contaminated and mixed in ways that makes it difficult or impossible to recycle, so it ends up being dumped or burned openly in the recipient countries, creating toxic emissions and terrestrial and marine pollution.

In the first five months of 2018, Thailand had already seized 30,000 container loads of plastic scrap in their ports and was forced to impose an emergency import ban.

Governments worldwide are struggling with an avalanche of waste and coming up with solutions, large and small.

The most recent meeting of the world’s only international treaty on waste control ended with expressions of widespread and growing support for a proposal by Norway to add plastics to the list of wastes subject to the trade controls under the treaty, known as the Basel Convention.

The proposal, made at a September meeting in Geneva, is seen as a key mechanism to stem the tide of marine debris and plastic litter. It would add plastic waste to the list of wastes that require notification by exporting countries and consent by importing countries before export.

“Southeast Asia is already being hit hard by a tsunami of plastic waste,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement. “The Norwegian proposal to place plastic scrap under Basel controls will be a significant first step to protect Southeast Asia and developing countries everywhere from becoming the trash bins of the developed world.”

Many countries voiced their support for the Norwegian proposal on the floor of the meeting, including: China, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Maldives, Malaysia, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Senegal, South Africa, State of Palestine, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, and Uruguay.

While there was broad support for the proposal, Canada, Japan, Australia and the European Union are seeking to block, delay or water down the proposal.

“The severity of the plastic pollution problem and its impacts on human health and the environment are undeniable and require urgent action. We cannot let a few countries or industry sectors prevent much-needed and in fact overdue action from the global community,” says David Azoulay, senior attorney for the Center for International Environmental Law.

The meeting also recommended the creation of a multi-stakeholder global partnership on the minimization of plastic waste. Both proposals – partnership and trade control – will go to the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Basel Convention for a decision in April 2019.

“The Basel Convention is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in stemming the flood tide of plastic waste now engulfing the entire planet,” said Jim Puckett, director of the Basel Action Network, based in Seattle, Washington.

“They can do this not only by controlling unwanted trade, but by promoting steps to minimize the production of single-use and other unsustainable plastic products,” said Puckett. “We are thrilled that this week’s meeting has clearly signaled a turning of the tide.”

In VTT’s PlastBug projects, microbes are being screened through a three-stage process. (Photo courtesy VTT) Posted for media use

In VTT’s PlastBug projects, microbes are being screened through a three-stage process. (Photo courtesy VTT) Posted for media use

Cleaning the Oceans of Plastic Waste

To help cleanse the world’s oceans of the tons of plastic waste that have gathered in swirling gyres, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a mobile container unit called PlastBug. The unit acts to remove plastics from the water and treat them with microbes to turn them into useable chemicals.

“Our idea is to design a mobile container where microbes degrade plastic waste to valuable products like fuels or chemicals,” says Kari Koivuranta, principal scientist at VTT.

The small, container-based factories could be placed in areas where centralized plastic waste collecting or recycling is not possible. The container factories could be located on a beach or ship.

The factory units would get most of the energy needed for the process from solar energy and wind power.

The goal is for the pilot unit to operate on the Baltic Sea in 2021, but funding still needs to be secured for the realization of this plan.

The Urban Mining chart of tungsten alloys placed on the market per country in tonnes for all collection categories is an example of the multitude of charts offered by the ProSUM consortium. 2018 (Image courtesy ProSUM) Posted for public use

The Urban Mining chart of tungsten alloys placed on the market per country in tonnes for all collection categories is an example of the multitude of charts offered by the ProSUM consortium. 2018 (Image courtesy ProSUM) Posted for public use

Building With Waste Materials

A growing scarcity of resources, along with the desire to move away from today’s throwaway mentality, means that the building sector must give more thought to the multiple use and recyclability of materials, as well as to alternative methods of construction.

A residential module fully constructed from reusable, recyclable, and compostable materials is the premise for the newest unit in NEST, the modular research and innovation building run by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Dübendorf.

On February 8, the NEST Urban Mining & Recycling unit opened its doors to house two students. At the same time, as an active lab, it is helping to advance the construction industry’s transition to a recycling economy.

The residence features structures and materials that can be fully reused, repurposed, recycled, or composted after deconstruction of the module.

The concept was designed by Werner Sobek with Dirk Hebel and Felix Heisel. Sobek is director of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design at the University of Stuttgart.

Hebel is the director and Heisel is the head of research at the Chair of Sustainable Construction at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Center, established in 2010 by two Swiss government agencies that conduct high tech research.

“The ongoing, sustained growth of the global population as well as dwindling resources urgently require us to do some rethinking in the construction industry,” says Sobek. “In future, we must reduce our consumption of construction materials and build for many more people.”

So, the concept of cycles must play a central role on the path to more sustainable construction. “The materials that we utilize will not just be used and then disposed of; instead they will be extracted from their cycle and later returned to it,” Hebel explains.

Database for Urban Waste Miners

In one of the more sweeping solutions to the world’s waste problems, European organizations have united to create the world’s first database of valuable materials available for urban mining from scrap vehicles, spent batteries, waste electronic and electrical equipment, and mining wastes.

The Urban Mine Platform <urbanmineplatform.eu>, created by 17 partners in project ProSUM (Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes), presents the flows of precious and base metals and critical raw materials in products in use and throughout their journey to end of life.

The database reveals the amount of valuable materials recovered or lost in the EU’s scrap vehicles, batteries, computers, phones, devices, appliances and other high tech products discarded annually – roughly 18 million tonnes in all.

The ProSUM consortium says urban mining to recover valuable critical raw materials from wastes is vital for securing ongoing supplies for manufacturing and to limit dependence on non-EU suppliers.

This platform displays all readily available data on products put on the market, stocks, composition and waste flows for electrical and electronic equipment, vehicles and batteries for all EU 28 Member States plus Switzerland and Norway. Iceland is also included for vehicles.

The EU, Norway and Switzerland generated some 10.5 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment in 2016 – about 23 percent of the world total. In addition, two million tonnes of batteries and some seven to eight million tonnes of EU vehicles reach their end-of-life each year.

All represent a rich source of secondary critical raw materials.

The recently published Global e-Waste Monitor reported that the world’s 44.7 metric tonnes of e-waste alone in 2016 contained €55 billion worth of precious metals and other high value materials.

The Urban Mine Platform contains data for elements and materials in high abundance in these waste products, mainly base metals, precious metals, and critical raw materials.

Dynamic charts on the Urban Mine Platform offer detailed data and market intelligence on The number and type of products placed on the market, in-stock, and generated as waste. The compositions of key components, materials and elements, such as aluminum, copper, gold or neodymium are given, in batteries, electronic and electrical equipment (EEE), and vehicles.

Pascal Leroy, secretary general of the WEEE Forum, a Brussels-based not-for-profit association and ProSUM project coordinator says, “Three years in the making, this consolidated database is the world’s first ‘one stop shop’ knowledge data platform on CRMs in waste products – easy to access, structured, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, up-to-date, impartial, broad in scope, standardized and harmonized, and verifiable.”

Featured Image: Plastic bottles in Findon, Adelaide, South Australia, April 17, 2018 (Photo by Michael Coghlan) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Refugees_Mirgrants

Tidal Wave of Foreign Trash Hits Thailand

 Searching the housands of containers at Thai ports for illegal waste shipments is a monumental task. While there has been shipping along the Chao Phraya River for centuries, construction of Bangkok Port was started in 1938. Construction of Laem Chabang Port on Thailand's Eastern Seaboard, now much larger than Bangkok Port, was begun in 1987. (Photo by Guido Vanhaleweyk) Posted for media use.

Searching the housands of containers at Thai ports for illegal waste shipments is a monumental task. While there has been shipping along the Chao Phraya River for centuries, construction of Bangkok Port was started in 1938. Construction of Laem Chabang Port on Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard, now much larger than Bangkok Port, was begun in 1987. (Photo by Guido Vanhaleweyk) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

BANGKOK, Thailand, August 9, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Government officials in Thailand are struggling to limit a waste scandal after discovering a massive amount of plastic and electronic waste was imported to the Southeast Asian country this year, often illegally, by factories involved in recycling.

Thais have been shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of tons of electronic waste has been shipped into the country since China decided to stop taking waste from wealthy countries at the end of 2017.

The waste scandal became public in late May after Thai police raided a waste management plant in Chachoengsao, east of Bangkok, after claims that hazardous waste smuggled from abroad was being burned at the facility.

Media reports show that untrained and unregistered migrant workers paid just 9,000 baht a month (US$272) were handling toxic items and burning electronic circuit boards, exposing themselves and the environment to heavy-metal contamination.

The Chinese owner of the plant was accused of importing potentially dangerous waste under false Customs declarations, the U.S. publication “The Nation” reported in a June 11 article. Foreigners were smuggling trash and declaring it as second-hand goods, police said.

The revelation led to other illegal waste sites being raided. Officials admitted they often had “no idea what kind of waste is toxic” or how to deal with it.

More than 210,000 metric tons of waste was found to have been imported from 35 countries in the first five months of this year, Thai police said.

Fears that Thailand – or “Trashland” as some cynics have labeled it – could become the new dumping ground for the world’s electronic waste. That spurred concern about the long-term toxic hazards from waste piled up at e-waste dumps.

The world is generating more e-waste than ever. Frost & Sullivan’s recent analysis, “Global Waste Recycling Market Outlook, 2018,” reveals that close to 48.2 million tonnes of eWaste was generated in 2017, of which only 20 to 25 percent was documented to be collected and recycled. The remaining waste was either landfilled or disposed of unsafely or illegally in countries like Thailand.

This scenario is likely to persist in the absence of stringent regulations, closed-loop supply chains, and greater producer responsibility. China made a market-altering decision when it announced a ban on the import of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of 2017.

This decision will force the world’s biggest waste importers, which include the UK, the US, Europe, and Japan, to build new recycling infrastructure in their own facilities or look to other Southeast Asian countries for waste management.

On June 1, four containers packed with plastic waste were found in eastern Bangkok. By the third week of June, nearly 20 illegal waste sites had been raided and there was speculation that legal changes brought in by the military government had opened the door to the “surge in foreign trash,” because such facilities could now be set up anywhere regardless of an area’s zoning.

A representative from Greenpeace said, “Electronic waste (e-waste) can be used as fuel in waste incinerators, as well as unrecyclable plastic. This order has eased restrictions for incinerators and waste factories.”

The NGO ReReef Thailand, which wants to build a business case for sustainability based on the vulnerabilities of the country’s coral reefs, said, “The substance never disappears … Since the beginning of plastic production, about 60 years ago, 6.3 billion tons of plastic never really gone. Less than 10 percent of recycled materials mean that more than five billion tons of plastic has become waste in the environment. It has become one of the most important environmental crises of this era.”

Concerned about the scale of the problem, and media reports that perhaps that national politicians had been involved in the illegal trade in waste, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said there may no longer be imports of foreign waste to Thailand.

The licenses of five importers were suspended after they were found to have hired illegal factories to recycle waste.

Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said the government will establish a multi-agency panel to work out how to regulate garbage from other countries. “It’s not just e-waste but also other types of garbage,” he said. “If the trash does not benefit the country and causes negative impact and burdens, we won’t allow it to be imported.”

Meanwhile, about 400 containers thought to contain electronic waste, plastic and discarded metal are now sitting abandoned at ports in Bangkok and Laem Chabang. Customs officials have warned that if they are not claimed within 15 days, they will dispose of these containers and their contents or send them back to where they came from – countries such as the United States, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

All of this disruption has triggered a warning from a U.S. environmental group that the experience Thailand has gone through could happen to many countries in South and Southeast Asia.

Basel Ban Amendment Close to Becoming Law

The Seattle-based NGO Basel Action Network said Monday that developing countries could be “hit by a tidal wave of electronic and plastic waste” if they don’t move to ban the import of such waste by ratifying an international agreement called the Basel Ban Amendment.

This change to the Basel Convention, an existing treaty agreed by 194 countries, would make it illegal to export hazardous and electronic waste from developed countries such as those in the European Union to poorer states.

The Basel Action Network says most e-waste from North America and Europe is exported to Asia – to Hong Kong, and increasingly to Thailand and Pakistan.

“Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka have ratified the agreement, but Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have not,” said the Basel Action Network in a statement.

“It is especially ironic that while the Thai government is rightly very concerned about the dumping on their territory, they have not made a move as yet to ratify the Ban Amendment. The Ban Amendment is but three ratifications short of going into the force of international law.”

New Technology Could Relieve Waste Burden

“The waste recycling market, like its end-user industries, is experiencing disruptive changes due to the advent of advanced digital technologies,” said Deepthi Kumar Sugumar, Frost & Sullivan research analyst. For example, smart waste bins with Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities will play a significant role in changing the way waste is collected and sorted.”

Using an ultrasonic sensor, an Internet of Things system gives a real time indicator of the garbage level in any trash can at any given moment. Using that data garbage companies can then optimize waste collection routes to reduce fuel consumption.

“Similarly, the rise of 3D printing technologies has made it much easier to recycle plastic waste. Many industries are turning plastics into high-quality filaments to replace spares, lowering the need for re-manufacturing,” said Sugumar.

Although technology has improved waste management considerably, market participants using these technologies will be challenged to convince industries employing conventional methods to switch to modern systems. They need to be made aware of the role novel recycling systems can play in enabling a circular economy, said Sugumar.

Meanwhile, the use of cutting-edge technologies is giving rise to innovative business models such as commercial waste collection zones. These models allow haulers to invest in infrastructure improvement and introduce inventive methods for minicipal solid waste collection.

By optimizing waste collection routes, combining real-time data, and employing data-related technologies such as predictive analytics, it will be possible to eliminate the unplanned dispatch of vehicles to collect waste.

“Another important technology that could have far-reaching consequences for the waste management market is augmented reality (AR),” observed Sugumar. “AR can help any manufacturer make informed decisions to prevent waste in the first place. Though AR is still evolving, it will change the way waste reduction and management is conducted in the future.”

Featured Images: Trash at the Nonthaburi landfill, Bangkok, Thailand, February 4, 2014 (Photo by Thibaud Saintin) Creative Commons license via Flickr


EU Maps Rich Resources for Urban Waste Mining

This massive salt pile is visible from the A4 Autobahn near Heringen, Germany is left over from potash mining in the region. (Photo by Gord McKenna) Creative Commons license via Flickr

This massive salt pile is visible from the A4 Autobahn near Heringen, Germany is left over from potash mining in the region. (Photo by Gord McKenna) Creative Commons license via Flickr

by Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 19, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Gold, platinum, aluminum and copper are just a few of the valuable materials lying hidden in vast piles of waste batteries, electronic and electrical equipment (EEE), scrap vehicles and mining wastes across the European Union.

Today, for the first time, expert organizations have unveiled the world’s first European database of valuable materials available for “urban mining” from these waste heaps.

The new Urban Mine Platform , created by 17 partners in project ProSUM, which stands for Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes, presents the flows of precious and base metals and critical raw materials for products in use and throughout their journey to end of life.

The database reveals the roughly 18 million tonnes of valuable materials recovered or lost in the EU’s scrap vehicles, batteries, computers, phones, gadgets, appliances and other high tech products discarded every year.

The 28 European Union Member States, plus Norway and Switzerland, generated around 10.5 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in 2016 – about 23 percent of the world total.

In addition, two million tonnes of batteries and some seven to eight million tonnes of EU vehicles reach their end-of-life annually. All are a rich source of secondary critical raw materials (CRMs).

Pascal Leroy is secretary general of the WEEE Forum, a Brussels-based not-for-profit association and ProSUM project coordinator.

“Three years in the making, this consolidated database is the world’s first one stop shop knowledge data platform on critical raw materials in waste products – easy to access, structured, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, up-to-date, impartial, broad in scope, standardized and harmonized, and verifiable,” said Leroy.

The recently published Global e-Waste Monitor reports that the world’s 44.7 metric tonnes of e-waste alone, not including vehicles, in 2016 contained €55 billion worth of precious metals and other high value materials.

The Urban Mine Platform contains data for elements and materials in high abundance in these waste products, mainly base metals, precious metals, and critical raw materials.

Charts offer detailed data and market intelligence on:

  • The number and type of products placed on the market, in-stock, and generated as waste
  • The compositions of key components, materials and elements, such as aluminum, copper, gold or neodymium, in batteries, electronic and electrical equipment (EEE), and vehicles
  • Waste flows, including amounts collected, estimates for small batteries and EEE in unsorted municipal solid waste, exported used vehicles, as well as the amount of vehicles, batteries and EEE of unknown whereabouts.

The ProSUM consortium says “urban mining” to recover valuable CRMs from wastes is vital for securing ongoing supplies for manufacturing and limit dependence on non-EU suppliers.

To that end, the project partners created from over 800 source documents and databases what they call “a state of the art knowledge base, using best available data in a harmonized and updateable format, which allows the recycling industry and policymakers to make more informed investment and policy decisions to increase the supply and recycling of secondary raw materials.”

The ProSUM report notes that a smartphone contains around 40 different critical raw materials, with a concentration of gold 25 to 30 times that of the richest primary gold ores.

The consortium explains that mining discarded high tech products produces 80 percent less carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gold than primary mining operations do.

ProSUM has shown that an increasing number of products contain precious resources such as neodymium, vital for making permanent magnets in motors; indium, used in flat panel displays; and cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries.

The Urban Mine Platform makes it possible to see the stocks and flows of these products.

Jaco Huisman of the United Nations University, and ProSUM Scientific Coordinator, says, “Until now, data on such critical raw materials have been produced by a variety of institutions, including government agencies, universities, NGOs, and industry, with the information scattered across various databases in different formats and difficult to compare or aggregate and often representing an outdated snapshot for a certain year only.”

“The ProSUM effort helps remedy that problem, and enables the identification of so-called hotspots – the largest stocks of specific materials,” said Huisman.

Europe can potentially mine two million tonnes of batteries a year.

The ProSUM report points to a sharp jump in battery waste the European Union, Switzerland, Norway since year 2000, with 2.7 million tonnes expected to be put on the market in 2020, up from roughly 1.7 million tonnes in 2000.

European authorities know the fate of only half of the estimated two million tonnes of batteries discarded in 2015, about 90 percent of them lead-based.

Other types of batteries available for urban mining – nickel-metal hydride, zinc-based and lithium-based – are a significant source of lithium (7,800 tonnes), cobalt (21,000 tonnes) and manganese (114,000 tonnes).

Vehicles are an increasingly rich source of critical raw materials.

Europe’s end of life vehicles represent a large source of secondary base metals like steel (213 million tonnes), aluminium (24 million tonnes) and copper (7.3 million tonnes), as well as platinum and palladium used in car catalysts.

Vehicles also contain large amounts of critical raw materials due to electronics, as well as alloying elements used in steel, aluminum and magnesium.

Few electric vehicles have yet reached end of life. Still, with sales rising, these will be a source of growing importance for secondary raw materials like neodymium, lithium and cobalt.

The report notes that more than 40 percent of registered vehicles are “of unknown whereabouts” – a gap attributable in part to unreliable data on used vehicles traded within the EU, unreported recycling, and exports beyond Europe.

Mining waste is rich in low grade metals.

The project is also amassing information about resources available in mining waste, which deposits are commonly very large but of low metal grade. New data, such as location, type of waste and origin available in a special extension of the database at Minerals4EU .

Mining waste differs in many respects from the other product groups in ProSUM in that there is no EU legislation that requires recycling, there is no major recycling industry, and Eurostat statistics on mining waste are sparse and only at country level.

The project outcomes are embedded in the European Commission’s (EC) Raw Materials Information System to create a more comprehensive and structured repository of knowledge related to primary and secondary sources consumed in the EU.

With this information, manufacturers can gain confidence about future recycled raw material supplies. Recyclers will have better intelligence about the changes in product types and material content which impact on their business and provide future recovery potential.

The mining industry can use this information for greater certainty about the quantities and types of materials needed in the marketplace, mitigating risk and improving profitability.

Policymakers will be better informed on raw material supplies, which affect jobs and financial institutions, and how materials are linked to energy consumption.

Researchers will have better data quantity, quality, completeness and reliability.

Katerina Adam, associate professor, School of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering, National Technical University of Athens said, “The ProSUM project has advanced the knowledge base for extractive wastes by assessing the availability of data on CRMs in mining waste deposits and expanding the scope of the Minerals Knowledge Data Platform to include more mining, processing, and waste reprocessing activities in future.”


Featured: Wrecked cars in a scrapyard near Wokingham, England, UK contain valuable raw materials. (Photo by sleepymyf) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Grant_Writing

E-waste Proliferates as Incomes Rise, Prices Fall

The Rwanda E-Waste Recycling Facility in Rwanda's Bugesera District, the second largest such facility in Africa. This is a Rwanda Green Fund investment. September 2017 (Photo by Rwanda Green Fund) Creative Commons license via Flickr

The Rwanda E-Waste Recycling Facility in Rwanda’s Bugesera District, the second largest such facility in Africa. This is a Rwanda Green Fund investment. September 2017 (Photo by Rwanda Green Fund) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BONN, Germany, December 14, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Last year, the world generated e-waste – everything from end-of-life refrigerators and TV sets to solar panels, mobile phones and computers – equal in weight to 1.23 million fully loaded 18-wheeler heavy-duty freight trucks, enough to form a line from New York to Bangkok and back.

A new report on global e-waste shows a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes (Mt) generated in 2016, up 3.3 Mt or eight percent from 2014.

Experts foresee a further 17 percent increase, to 52.2 million metric tonnes of e-waste by 2021, in this, the fastest growing part of the world’s domestic waste stream.

Only 20 percent of 2016’s e-waste – discarded products with a battery or plug – is documented to have been collected and recycled, despite rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, platinum, palladium and other high value recoverable materials.

The conservatively estimated value of recoverable materials in last year’s e-waste was US$55 billion, more than the 2016 Gross Domestic Product of most countries.

These numbers come from the new report, “Global E-waste Monitor 2017,”  issued this week.

The report is a collaborative effort of the United Nations University (UNU), represented through its Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme hosted by UNU’s Bonn-based Vice-Rectorate in Europe, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA).

Jakob Rhyner, vice-rector, United Nations University, said, “The world’s e-waste problem continues to grow. Improved measurement of e-waste is essential to set and monitor targets, and identify policies. National data should be internationally comparable, frequently updated, published, and interpreted.”

“Existing global and regional estimates based on production and trade statistics do not adequately cover the the health and environmental risks of unsafe treatment and disposal through incineration or landfilling,” said Rhyner.

About four percent of 2016’s e-waste is known to have gone into landfills. Experts estimate that about 76 percent, or 34.1 Mt, is likely to have ended up incinerated, in landfills, recycled in informal backyard operations or remains stored in homes.

On a per capita basis, the report shows a rising trend in the amount of e-waste generative.

Falling prices now make electronic and electrical devices affordable for most people worldwide while encouraging early equipment replacement and new acquisitions in wealthier countries.

As a result, the average worldwide per capita e-waste generated was 6.1 kilograms (13.4 pounds) in 2016, up five percent from 5.8 kg (12.7 pounds) in 2014.

The highest per capita e-waste generators – at 17.3 kilograms (38.1 pounds) per inhabitant – were Australia, New Zealand and the other the nations of Oceania, with only six percent of their e-waste formally collected and recycled.

Europe, including Russia, is the second largest generator of e-waste per inhabitant with an average of 16.6 kg (36.5 pounds) per person.

However, Europe has the highest collection rate, 35 percent.

The Americas generate 11.6 kg (25.5 pounds) per inhabitant and collect only 17 percent, comparable to the collection rate in Asia, which is 15 percent.

However, at 4.2 kg (9.2 pounds) per inhabitant, Asia generates only about one third of America’s e-waste per capita.

Africa, meanwhile, generates 1.9 kg (4.1 pounds) per inhabitant, with little information available on its collection rate.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said, “Environmental protection is one of the three pillars of sustainable development and ITU is at the forefront of advocating for the safe disposal of waste generated by information and communication technologies. To this end ITU has produced several recommendations that help deal with e-waste and the Global E-waste Monitor will be an added resource to assist governments develop better management strategies, standards and policies to reduce the adverse health and environmental effects of e-waste.”

The three Electrical and Electronical Equipment (EEE) categories that contribute the most to e-waste are also growing the fastest.

These three EEE categories, which already constitute 75 percent of global e-waste by weight – 33.6 of the total 44.7 million metric tonnes – will also see the fastest growth.

Top of the list is small equipment, such as vacuum cleaners, microwaves, ventilation equipment, toasters, electric kettles, electric shavers, scales, calculators, radio sets, video cameras, electrical and electronic toys, small electrical and electronic tools, small medical devices, small monitoring and control instruments. In 2016: 16.8 million metric tonnes was generated in this category, with an annual growth rate of four percent a year to 2020.

Next comes large equipment, such as washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves, large printing machines, copying equipment and solar photovoltaic panels. In 2016, 9.2 million metric tonnes was generated in this category, with an annual growth of four percent a year to 2020.

Third is temperature exchange equipment, like refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and heat pumps. In 2016: 7.6 million metric tonnes was generated in this category, with an annual growth of six percent per year to 2020.

Expected to grow less quickly by weight due to miniaturization is small IT and telecommunication equipment, such as mobile phones, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), pocket calculators, routers, personal computers, printers and telephones. In 2016: 3.9 Mt generated, with an annual growth of two percent a year to 2020.

Little growth is expected in the category of lamps, such as fluorescent lamps, high intensity discharge lamps and LED lamps.

In 2016: 0.7 million metric tonnes of waste was generated in this category, with an annual growth rate of one percent per year to 2020.

Expected to decline by weight in years to come are:

Screens, such as televisions, monitors, laptops, notebooks, tablets, as heavy CRT screens are replaced with flat panel displays. In 2016: 6.6 million metric tonnes of waste was generated in this category, with an annual decline of three percent per year to 2020.

Each product within the six e-waste categories has a different lifetime profile, which means that each category has different waste quantities, economic values, and potential environmental and health impacts if recycled inappropriately.

Antonis Mavropoulos, president, International Solid Waste Association, said, “We live in a time of transition to a more digital world, where automation, sensors and artificial intelligence are transforming all the industries, our daily lives and our societies. E-waste is the most emblematic by-product of this transition and everything shows that it will continue to grow at unprecedented rates.”

The fastest growth of EEE sales is in developing countries.

There is an increasing number of applications and services in such areas as health, education, government, entertainment, and commerce, delivered at increasingly high speeds attracting more users to a growing number of networks.

The report notes that with a population of 7.4 billion, the world now has 7.7 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions. More than eight in 10 people on Earth are covered by a mobile broadband signal.

Some 3.6 billion people – close to half the world’s population, now use the Internet, up from 20.5 percent in 2007. Roughly half of humanity has a computer and Internet access at home. Some 48 percent of households have a computer, up from 30.2 percent in 2007, and 54 percent have Internet access, up from 23 percent in 2007.

In addition to basic prepaid mobile cellular services and handsets becoming more affordable worldwide, prices are falling for many other types of equipment such as computers, peripheral equipment, TVs, laptops and printers

The report calls for stepped up global efforts to better design components in electrical and electronic equipment to facilitate reuse and recycling of electronics, greater capture and recycling of old electronics, and better tracking of e-waste and the resource recovery process.

Encouragingly, more countries are adopting e-waste legislation, the report says. Today 66 percent of the world’s people, living in 67 countries, are covered by national e-waste management laws, up from 44 percent in 61 countries in 2014, an increase caused mainly by India’s adoption of legislation last year.

Still, the report states, only 41 countries quantify their e-waste generation and recycling streams officially and “the fate of a large majority of e-waste (34.1 of 44.7 Mt) is simply unknown.”


Featured Image: One of many dismantlers of electronic waste, location unknown. December 2017 (Photo by ITU) Posted for media use.

E-Waste Piles Proliferate in Asia

E-Waste Piles Proliferate in Asia

Creative reuse of Used PCBs, Agbogbloshie , February 28, 2014 (Photo by Fairphone) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

TOKYO, Japan, January 26, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The volume of discarded electronics in East Asia and Southeast Asia rose nearly two-thirds between 2010 and 2015, and e-waste generation is growing fast both in total volume and per person measures, new United Nations research shows.

The study shows that rising e-waste quantities are even outpacing population growth.

Driven by rising incomes and high demand for new devices and appliances, the average increase in e-waste across all 12 countries and areas analyzed was 63 percent in the five years ending in 2015.

The e-waste totaled 12.3 million tonnes, a weight 2.4 times that of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

These calculations are drawn from the first-ever Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia compiled by the UN’s think tank, the United Nations University and funded by Japan’s Ministry of Environment.

To conserve resources and avoid serious health and environmental problems, the report urges a crackdown on improper recycling and disposal of electrical and electronic equipment, which includes anything with a battery or a cord.

The countries and other jurisdictions covered by the report are: Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

China alone more than doubled its generation of e-waste between 2010 and 2015 to 6.7 million tonnes, up 107 percent.

For many countries that already lack infrastructure for environmentally sound e-waste management, the increasing volumes are a cause for concern,” says co-author Ruediger Kuehr of UN University.

Increasing the burden on existing waste collection and treatment systems results in flows towards environmentally unsound recycling and disposal,” he warned.

Regionally, the average amount of e-waste generated by each person was about 10 kg in 2015, with the highest generation found in Hong Kong (21.7 kg per person), followed by Singapore (19.95 kg) and Taiwan (19.13 kg).

There were large differences between nations, with Cambodia at 1.10 kg per person, Vietnam, with 1.34 kg, and the Philippines at 1.35 kg per person being the lowest e-waste generators in 2015.

The report cites four main trends responsible for the increasing volumes of electronic waste:

•             More devices: Innovation in technology is driving the introduction of new products, particularly portable electronics, such as tablets, and wearables like smart watches.

•             More consumers: In the East and Southeast Asian region, there are industrializing countries with growing populations, and also rapidly expanding middle classes able to afford more devices.

•             Decreasing usage window: The usage time of devices is getting shorter as rapidly advancing technologies make older products obsolete – for instance flash drives have replaced floppy disks.

Software requirements also play a role in decreased usage time. For instance, there are minimum requirements for computers to run operating software and other applications, and there are “soft factors” such as product fashion, the report states.

As more devices are replaced more rapidly, piles of e-waste grow.

•             Imports: Import of electrical and electronic equipment provides greater availability of products, both new and second-hand, which also increases the e-waste that arises as the devices reach their end of life.

The report warns of improper and illegal e-waste dumping prevalent in most countries in the study, regardless of national e-waste legislation.

Consumers, dismantlers and recyclers are often guilty of illegal dumping, particularly of “open dumping“, where non- functional parts and residues from dismantling and treatment operations are released into the environment, the report points out.

The main reasons for illegal dumping are: lack of awareness, lack of incentives, lack of convenience, the absence of suitable hazardous waste disposal sites, weak governance, and lax enforcement of whatever laws do exist.

The report points to common practices such as open burning, which can cause acute and chronic ill-effects on public health and the environment.

Open burning of e-waste is practiced by informal recyclers when segregating organic and inorganic compounds. For example, they may burn cables to recover the valuable copper.

Though less common, spontaneous combustion can occur at open dumping sites when components such as batteries trigger fires due to short circuits.

Informal recycling, called “backyard recycling,” is a challenge for most developing countries in the region, with a large and growing number of entrepreneurs conducting unlicensed and illegal recycling practices from backyards.

These processes are not only hazardous for the recyclers, their communities and the environment, but they are also inefficient, as they are unable to extract the full value of the processed products, the report points out.

These recyclers recover gold, silver, palladium and copper from printed circuit boards and wires, using solvents such as sulphuric acid for hazardous wet chemical leaching processes, or acid baths, which release toxic fumes.

Open burning and acid bath recycling in the informal sector have serious negative impacts on processers’ occupational health,” co-author Shunichi Honda warns. “In the absence of protective materials such as gloves, glasses, masks, etc., inhalation of and exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances directly affect workers’ health.

Associations have been reported between exposure from improper treatment of e-waste and altered thyroid function, reduced lung function, negative birth outcomes, reduced childhood growth, negative mental health outcomes, impaired cognitive development, cytotoxicity and genotoxicity,” explains Honda.

Indirect exposure to these hazardous substances is also a cause of many health problems, particularly for families of informal recyclers who often live and work in the same location, as well as for communities living in and around the area of informal recycling sites.

The report gives top marks to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. These three jurisdictions have a head-start in the region in establishing e-waste collection and recycling systems. They began to adopt and enforce e-waste specific laws in the late 1990s.

Among the most advanced economies and areas in the region, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are also characterized by high per capita e-waste generation, formal collection and recycling infrastructure and relatively strong enforcement.

Hong Kong and Singapore do not have specific e-waste legislation. Instead, these governments collaborate with producers to manage e-waste through public-private partnerships.

As small jurisdictions with large shipping and trade networks, Hong Kong and Singapore must cope with major transboundary movements of e-waste generated domestically, as well as e-waste in transit from other countries.

China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam all have recent e-waste legislation. These four countries are in a transitionphase, with a mix of formal and informal elements in an evolving ecosystem in terms of collection and recycling infrastructure.

Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand have yet to establish legal frameworks for e-waste management. There is an active informal sector in these countries with an established network for collection and import of end-of-life products and their recycling, repair, refurbishment and parts harvesting.

Asia, including the 12 nations and jurisdictions in this new study, is the world’s largest consumer of electrical and electronic equipment, buying nearly half of all such equipment on the market, amounting to 20.62 million tonnes in 2005; and 26.69 million tonnes in 2012.

The increase is striking given the drop in sales of electrical and electronic equipment in Europe and the Americas in 2012 following the global financial crisis.

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A tracking device inside an old printer led investigators from the Seattle-based nonprofit Basel Action Network to this e-waste scrapyard in rural Hong Kong, June 22, 2016. (Photo by Katie Campbell, KCTS/EarthFix) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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