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Issue 39
, 2013
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The global impact of e-waste: Addressing the challenge

Source: New ILO report by Ms. Karin Lundgren, Date: , 2012

Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is currently the largest growing waste stream. It is hazardous, complex and expensive to treat in an environmentally sound manner, and there is a general lack of legislation or enforcement surrounding it.

Today, most e-waste is being discarded in the general waste stream. Of the e-waste in developed countries that is sent for recycling, 80 per cent ends up being shipped (often illegally) to developing countries such as China, India, Ghana and Nigeria for recycling. Within the informal economy of such countries, it is recycled for its many valuable materials by recyclers using rudimentary techniques. Such globalization of e-waste has adverse environmental and health implications. Furthermore, developing countries are shouldering a disproportionate burden of a global problem without having the technology to deal with it. In addition, developing countries themselves are increasingly generating significant quantities of e-waste.

This paper explores the volumes, sources and flows of e-waste, the risks it poses to e-waste workers and the environment, occupational safety and health (OSH) issues, labour issues and regulatory frameworks, and links this growing global problem with the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s current and future work. It is clear that the future of e-waste management depends not only on the effectiveness of local government authorities working with the operators of recycling services but also on community participation, together with national, regional and global initiatives.

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