The electronics industry’s dirty little secret is about to get more international attention thanks to a U.N. program to monitor where our discarded gadgets end up.
The New York Daily News is reporting that a United Nations program called StEP (Solving the E-Waste Problem) will monitor ports in Asia and West Africa to help pinpoint where a good chunk of the estimated of the United States’ e-waste ends up. You can thank a five-year, $2.5 million EPA grant that was awarded to the UN University’s Institute for Sustainability and Peace for this new push.
The goals, according to StEP, include:
- Characterization of the nature of the flows of used electronics, including routes by which used electronics are leaving the country and an assessment of methodologies that may be used to quantify the amounts;
- Harmonization of international efforts, including research, tracking, data collection, analysis and information sharing;
- Science-based pilot and demonstration projects for e-waste refurbishment and disposal;
- Environmentally sound e-waste management and addressing at borders enforcement issues related to illegal e-waste shipments;
- Fostering international cooperation to ensure highest recycling efficiency and appropriate treatment of critical components in e-waste processed in both developing countries and economies in transition (“Best of Two Worlds” approach).
In recent years, media attention has turned to e-waste as consumers exhibit an insatiable appetite for smartphones, HDTVs, tablets and faster PCs. It wouldn’t be such a problem if our old electronics were recycled properly, but they’re often not. (Here’s a great video from The Story of Stuff that illustrates the issue.) Often, electronics end up dumped in landfills where they leach toxic materials into the ground. Or as parts of Ghana are witnessing, they end up overseas where locals harvest materials under conditions pose a health risk and blight their ecosystems.
Armed with this new funding, StEP can start to shed some light on the murky shipping and export systems that are spreading the e-waste problem. With any luck, effective solutions will present themselves soon thereafter.