29 September 2014
Scaling the e-Waste Mountain: Opportunities in the Post-2015 Development Agenda
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The commonly agreed vision of the Step Initiative's 65 institutional members is to achieve “societies which have succeeded in reducing to a sustainable level the e-waste related burden on the ecosystem."

The Step Initiative – “Solving the e-waste problem” – addresses the impact of the design, production, use and disposal of electrical and electronic equipment (or e-waste). The commonly agreed vision of the Initiative’s 65 institutional members is to achieve “societies which have succeeded in reducing to a sustainable level the e-waste related burden on the eco-system.”

Without question, the e-waste mountain – made up of TVs, computer, smart phones, refrigerators, energy-saving bulbs and more – is one of the fastest growing waste streams. United Nations University (UNU) expects e-waste to rise from current estimates of 41 million tonnes annually, to 47 million tonnes in 2017. This is due to the transnational nature of the supply chain of electrical and electronic goods, including production, market, consumer use and disposal at end of life. Their production demands the use of increasingly scarce resources. Further to this, their inappropriate disposal through normal household waste disposal habits, or shipments of non-reusable equipment for reuse to developing countries, introduce challenges that must be addressed. In both post-industrialized and industrializing countries, we are yet to successfully and sustainably manage even the problems associated with plastic and other waste streams, much less complex than e-waste.

To find a sustainable solution to the e-waste problem, UNU (which manages Step) has initiated discussions on improving coordination under the umbrella of the UN. The initiative would seek to bring together the UN organizations that are active in the e-waste field – including the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), ITU, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – to ensure that their activities are better coordinated and aligned, and to enhance the use of resources, learning within the UN system, and pooling of interests, capacities and competencies of the various UN organizations.

UNU is currently consulting with partners about the possible development of a UN-E-waste Programme, which would act as the United Nations inter-agency coordination mechanism on e-waste. Such a Programme could be formally established by the United Nations High-Level Committee on Programmes in order to add value to existing UN initiatives by fostering greater cooperation and information-sharing among UN entities, such as UNU, UNEP, ITU, UNIDO, UNDP, WHO, ILO, as well as external partners.

If agreed upon, UN-E-waste would perform and align e-waste work on the implementation, policy, and capacity building levels. It would strengthen e-waste activities and support them in their efforts to help Member States achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other international goals and commitments related to e-waste, as laid down by parties to e.g. the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, The Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within, and by Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) stakeholders.

UNU is especially interested in providing central services to such a programme in the field of science-based research and capacity building. The Step Initiative could provide valuable input, as could the Partnership of Action on Computing Equipment (PACE) under the Basel Convention, UNEP’s Global Partnership on Waste Management, and the projects currently developing e-waste management systems in Africa and Latin America under UNIDO-implemented projects funded by the Global Environment Facility.

Step always welcomes new members to join this vital work, and invites interested organizations and individuals to contact us directly.

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