Managing e-Waste in Developing Countries

Serious health and environmental problems and wasted resources

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is growing exponentially and totals up to 50 million metric tons annually around the world. While this waste is basically comprised of recyclable materials, it also contains a small quantity of toxic products that must be handled properly. For this reason, significant informal recycling channels have evolved, enabling millions of the world’s poorest people to earn a living. However, this informal sector recycles the materials it recovers via rudimentary and inefficient recycling practices, creating a significant impact on public health and the environment. 

Transforming problems into opportunities

Implementing a channel for managing e-waste appropriately requires establishing framework conditions that connect the existing informal sector with suitable industrial infrastructure. The following levels of intervention are generally required:

  • Define the appropriate legal framework;
  • Develop a customized business model; and
  • Implement technology suitable to each phase of the process.

Understanding how these ideas are integrated into the local socio-economic context makes it possible to find solutions that transform what appears to be a problem into an opportunity for all the stakeholders in the industry. In this way, recent projects in India noted the following:

  • Informal communities of recyclers obtained government authorization that allows them to legally participate in an organized industry.
  • Informal recyclers also improved their social standing and now can deal legally with the formal sector. Consequently, informal collectors have access to greater volumes of waste from waste generators.
  • The collected waste is dismantled manually before being passed to industrial groups for proper recycling.
  • The quantity of waste treated can be declared to officials and accounted for under existing legislation
  • The environmental impact resulting from rudimentary practices has disappeared entirely.

Results that generate interest upstream in the value chain

These concrete actions are attracting increased interest from major manufacturers of electronics equipment under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies and as part of ensuring their conformity with national and international legal guidelines.

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