UNU: E-Waste in Asia Spikes, Regulation and Practices Not Keeping Pace
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The United Nations University (UNU) issued 'Regional E-Waste Monitor: East and Southeast,' its first regional report on trends in waste electrical and electronic equipment ("e-waste").

E-waste volume in 12 countries and areas in East and Southeast Asia rose 63% in five years, outpacing population growth, but only seven countries in the region have adopted e-waste legislation or regulations.

E-waste management falls under SDG target 12.4, which aims to, by 2020, “achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks and significantly reduce their release to air, water and oil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.”

15 January 2017: The first regional United Nations University (UNU) report on trends in waste electrical and electronic equipment (“e-waste”) finds that e-waste volume in 12 countries and areas in East and Southeast Asia rose 63% in five years, outpacing population growth.

Meanwhile, improper management and illegal dumping prevail, and only seven countries in the region have adopted e-waste legislation or regulations. UNU issued the report, titled ‘Regional E-Waste Monitor: East and Southeast,’ on 15 January 2017. The report focuses on Asia, UNU notes, because it is home to key electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) manufacturers, and it is a large EEE consumer, a large market for second-hand EEE, and a hub for informal and formal EEE recycling and disposal.

E-waste management falls under SDG target 12.4, which aims to, by 2020, “achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks and significantly reduce their release to air, water and oil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment.”

According to the report, e-waste in Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Viet Nam rose to 12.3 million tonnes during the 2010-2015 period, equivalent to 2.4 times the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza. E-waste generation more than doubled in China alone during that period, to 6.7 million tonnes.

On a per capita basis, the report finds e-waste generation to be highest in Hong Kong, at 21.7 kilograms (kg), and lowest in Cambodia, at 1.10 kg. Per capita generation was 19.5 kg in Singapore, 19.13 kg in Tawiwan, 1.35 kg in the Philippines, and 1.34 kg in Viet Nam.

The report warns that the rapid growth of e-waste in the region poses risks for countries and areas where proper infrastructure for environmentally sound management of e-waste is not common. It finds that improper e-waste management and e-waste dumping is prevalent, and many countries do not have e-waste legislation, while enforcement of legislation in some of those that do is lax.

E-waste legislation is in a “transitory state” in China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam, marked by limited enforcement, low public awareness of risks, and both formal and informal elements in collection and recycling infrastructures.

The UNU report notes that three of the countries and areas with the highest per capita e-waste generation – Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan – adopted e-waste legislation and established e-waste collection and management systems in the 1990s, and as a result have well-developed infrastructures and its rules are relatively strongly enforced. It notes that China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam have adopted e-waste legislation in more recent years, and therefore are in a “transitory state” marked by limited enforcement, low public awareness of risks, and both formal and informal elements in collection and recycling infrastructures.

Among the countries and areas that have not yet adopted specific e-waste legislation, the report notes that Hong Kong and Singapore manage e-waste through a public-private partnership (PPP) with industry, but also engage in significant transboundary movements of e-waste generated domestically. Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand also have not yet adopted e-waste legislation, according to the report, but they have active informal recycling sectors, including the importation of end-of-life equipment for repair, refurbishment and parts harvesting.

The UNU report notes that all but Taiwan are Parties to the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, although Taiwan imposes equivalent controls in its domestic legislation. Cambodia, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan have not ratified the Basel Convention’s Ban Amendment, which bans the export of hazardous wastes for final disposal and recycling from Annex VII countries (Member States of the EU, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Liechtenstein) to non-Annex VII countries. Japan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Taiwan control the import of e-waste but not of used electronics, while Cambodia, China, Hong Kong and Malaysia ban the import of e-waste and ban or restrict the import of used electronics.

The regional report on Asia was prepared by UNU’s Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) programme, and funded by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment. SCYCLE issued a global overview report on e-waste in 2015. [UNU Press Release] [Publication: Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on SCYCLE global e-waste Report]

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