Until the StEP (Solving the E-waste Problem, Reference No. 1) initiative of the United Nations University (UNU) & the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) got busy in real earnestness, with the e-waste problem and developed a successful prototype recycling factory, piles of e-waste (electronic waste) that were steadily growing the world over, posed a grim, sinister portent to all concerned – environmentalists, governments, the healthcare industry, electronics manufacturers, academics and so on (for a detailed Discussion on e-waste, read relevant parts of Reference No. 2 or other sources on the web). The cause for their fears was solid. e-waste, that is comprised primarily by trashed computers, mobile phones and their accessories, are rich in toxic substances / chemicals – mercury, cadmium, arsenic & hexavalent chromium to name just a few. Not being amenable to the waste disposal processes known before SteP's solution (pl see Reference No. 2 titled "Recycling – From E-Waste To Resources" , for details), they defied every possible method of being disposed off safely. And, consequently, e-waste kept piling up, unstoppably, all over the world.
The potency of e-waste to cause incapacitating / severe health hazards in humans as well as irreversible damage to the world environment had been known for sometime. Consequently those in the world that were aware, cheered up when SteP's prototype factory saw the light of day! The prototype had been proven by running small, pilot factories successfully and may be easily adapted to suit any world location. So, watchers may have imagined that the end of the e-waste crisis was near, since all that apparently remained the implementation of SteP's solution on a large scale, all over the world and as quickly as possible!
So far, so good! However, to the huge disappointment of an expectant world, implementation projects, bogged down by a set of non-technical issues, are struggling either to take off or to make any significant progress. The major issues thwarting progress are: advocacy, institutionalization, legislation & sustainability. And while officials are trying to clear these roadblocks, precious time is being wasted. The result? Not only has e-waste growth not been contained by the numbers of recycling factories setup, but according to figures available with StEP, (using 2013 as base year), e-waste will grow and reach 133% its 2013 volume by 2017.
I will attempt to briefly explain the bottlenecks mentioned above before closing.
In many nations, government & the general public are still not sufficiently aware of either the severity or scale of the e-waste problem. (Had sufficient people were aware, there would have been a public outcry for remedial action, everywhere, by now!). Hundreds and thousands more people in every nation need to be made aware of the problem quickly, and those that already know need to be reminded.
Governments, preoccupied with their home tasks, often seem to forget the e-waste problem. Environmental agencies, NGOs, local groups and citizens need to remind them frequently about what is at stake. Governments also need to be reminded periodically that their responses to the e-waste problem in the past have NOT been adequate. They need to drop complacency and get ready to tackle e-waste in a big away, immediately, before available time runs out and the e-waste problem turns into a crisis.
LION'S SHARE (OVER 85%) OF RECYCLING CARRIED OUT BY THE INFORMAL SECTOR:
According to available data, global e-waste recycling is mostly carried out by the unorganized, informal sector in Asia. This has resulted in poor recycling performance. Lack of established, standard processes has led to a disadvantageous diversity in processing methods, ad-hoc processes, machines, tools used etc. Adequate numbers of skilled / trained staff are not easy to find. There is no guarantee that proper safety measures are practiced or that outputs of recycling (*) checked to ensure that levels of residual toxic substances are below approved limits. The result is a frittering away of the power that would have been available if one resorted to organized recycling – inability to upscale / down-scale rapidly, enforce workplace safety, ensure 'green' & efficient processes, economies of scale, monitoring & control activities , quality of processes & outputs etc. Therefore, the ownership of the recycling sector needs to change …