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Question 13/5

Question 13/5 – Environmental impact reduction including e-waste
(Continuation of Question 21/5)


With the introduction of concepts of environmental sustainability, standards such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14000, safety and environmental aspects related to the telecommunication sector have taken on greater importance.

As a result of environmental challenges, climate change, energy and material resources use reduction and e-waste management, the interest around environmental issues is growing in areas including life cycle analysis of products and processes (based on ITU-T L.1400 series ), use of more environmentally friendly materials and waste disposal.

Environmental sustainability can be defined as the ability to maintain the qualities that are valued in the physical environment by the use of design for environment principles, efficient use of non-renewable resources, efficient and environmentally sound recycling and use of renewable resources much as possible.

ICTs are increasingly expected to play a key role in tackling global environmental issues such as minimizing the burden on the environment and helping prevent the depletion of resources. Recycling of ICT equipment and facilities has a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Considerable amounts of rare metals can be obtained from this recycling process without mining the rare metals in producing countries provided this is obtained with less energy and CO2 emission compared to the mining of native rare metals.

Products used in outside plant are typically manufactured using thermoplastic materials, lead, copper, wood, concrete, iron. Preservative substances or antioxidants are added in order to ensure the long term performances of products. The minimization or replacement of these materials is a goal for all environmentally correct countries but in the meantime, the final disposal process should respect the environment and human health. Moreover, new classes of materials that minimize environmental impact have to be studied, which is imperative since large quantities are likely to be needed as developing countries extend their networks.

Not only materials and equipment, but also the related installation and operation processes can affect the environment. Therefore the mitigation of these sources of environmental damage must also be studied.

It is important to develop environmental requirements for equipment and facilities such as mobile phones and routers in order to reduce impact on the environment. A key method here is to implemented design principles that use less material or manufacturing energy and minimize hazardous material. Another method is to increase the usable life of ICT equipment through hardware and software upgrades. It is also important to study safe, low-cost social recirculation of ICT equipment through reuse and redeployment.

The following Recommendations and Handbooks, in force at the time of approval of this Question, fall under its responsibility:

  • L.2, L.20, L.21, L.22, L.23, L.24, L.32, L.33, L.63, L.1000, L.1100;
  • The Preservation of Wooden Poles carrying Overhead Telecommunication lines;
  • Protection of Telecommunication Buildings from Fire.


Study items to be considered include, but are not limited to:

  • How to ensure the safety and environmental performance associated with ICT products, equipment and facilities, including the avoidance of hazardous materials and final disposal through standards?
  • How to ensure that the ICT products, equipment and facilities cause minimum environmental and health impact?
  • How can we minimize the effect on the environment of existing and new products under development and especially the resulting e-waste?
  • An up-to-date review of the status of technologies for recycling and e-waste directives worldwide.
  • How to mitigate e-waste and to reduce negative environmental and health impact like potential GHG emissions from uncontrolled handling through proper and environmentally responsible recycling?


Tasks include, but are not limited to:

  • Motivate ITU members to share their national experiences and spread the collected knowledge related to environmental and sustainability aspects of laws or directives;
  • Determine processes to minimize the environmental (including health) impact of products (materials, hazardous materials avoidance), manufacturing processes, operational procedures and disposal;
  • Search for new technologies and/or compounds / materials and operational processes to use that minimize environmental (including health) impact. This may require the study group to identify the market needs and provide timely standardization solutions;
  • Identify environmental impact effects of recycling related to ICT facilities and equipment by using L.1410, etc.;
  • Analyse safe, low-cost social recirculation of ICT equipment through recycling and redeployment. This analysis should also consider solutions to increase the usable life of ICT devices by enhancing the ability for hardware/software updates rather than replacement (especially for high-end fixed and portable terminals and for IT equipment);
  • Prepare a questionnaire about environmental sustainability practices and regulations in outside plant and ICT products, equipment and facilities;
  • Prepare a handbook of environmental sustainability in outside plant and ICT products, equipment and/facilities;
  • Prepare a revision recommendation of L.lca (The use of life cycle analysis in outside plant) in collaboration with Question M/5;
  • Prepare a new recommendation L.recy (Recycling of copper and optical fibre cables);
  • Revision of recommendations L.2, L.24 and L.63;
  • Study solutions to mitigate e-waste. Following the universal charging solution for the mobile phone hand held terminals (L.1000), a new series of recommendations L.CPS is under preparation for other ICT devices with external power supplies;
  • Study on battery standardization including recycling impacts and solutions to reduce battery waste. This should cover at minimum battery packs external to terminals but should also cover internal batteries as much as possible;
  • Prepare a handbook on lifecycle approach for ICT equipment to minimize environmental and health impact;
  • Prepare revision or complementary recommendation on rare metal or material supply chain following L.1100 publication;
  • Study of due diligence on conflict material.

An up-to-date status of work under this Question is contained in the SG 5 work programme (use URL as shown in the table below).




  • L-series


  • 5, 8, 11, 12, 17 and 18/5

Study Groups:

  • ITU-T SG9, SG15 and SG16
  • ITU-D SGs
  • ITU-R SGs

Standardization bodies:

  • IEC TC46, TC100, IEEE, ETSI, GSMA, UNEP/Secretariat of the Basel Convention, UNU, ISO