E-waste[i], also known as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world. The rapid growth of the digital society and consumer demand for digital devices is contributing to what has been coined as a
tsunami of e-waste, by the UN. Immediate action is required in order to protect human health and the environment from the consequences of inadequate handling and disposal of our discarded devices. Along with its clear challenges however, if treated through appropriate recycling methods, e-waste could offer economic returns worth over
62.5 billion dollars per year.
ITU has a broad portfolio of activities in the area of e-waste and strives to tackle the challenges faced by this waste stream at the global, regional and national level. It focusses on a number of priorities in the area of e-waste, from conducting life-cycle analysis of products and processes, helping shift current economic models to a green and circular economy for ICT equipment, supporting policy and regulatory development, producing standards, improving and collecting worldwide e-waste data and helping raise awareness, globally, in order to make encourage accountability.
The highest policy making body of the ITU, the Plenipotentiary Conference, established targets in 2018 relating to e-waste:
By 2023, increase the global e-waste recycling rate to 30%
By 2023, raise the percentage of countries with an e-waste legislation to 50%
Tackling the global e-waste challenge at ITU also falls with the internationally mandated framework of the
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), closely linking to goals 3, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 17.
Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on e-waste management
In the e-waste challenge lies a wealth of opportunity to recover valuable raw materials and create new jobs in recycling.
The MOOC aims to uncover this opportunity. It will guide you through the complexities of the e-waste challenge and the actions that policymakers, industry leaders, academics and consumers can take to address it.
The MOOC shares insight into policy tools, international standards and best practices capable of stimulating the transition to sustainable e-waste management.
National Policy and Regulatory Development
Action to tackle e-waste needs to be backed by a sound policy and regulatory environment. Today, only 78 countries are covered by a national e-waste policy, legislation or regulation. In line with its target to increase the number of countries with an e-waste legislation, ITU provides technical assistance to its Member States, with close-knit support in the following: a.) country profile and literature review; b.) assembly of a technical team; c.) rapid or in-depth national e-waste assessment; d.) drafting of policy recommendations and framework report or actual policy document.
Look out for ITU Story Maps, coming soon, which will feature information on support for e-waste policy and regulatory development.
Developing International standards
Having the correct international standards and guidelines in place can help develop sustainable e-waste management systems, set down safe recycling procedures and move us towards a circular economy. The work of ITU’s standardization sector (ITU-T’s) Study Group 5 includes developing international standards to support city stakeholders and the ICT sector in developing a sustainable e-waste management system, evaluating the environmental impacts of e-waste, defining a safe procedure for recycling rare metals in ICTs and implementing the e-waste reduction target of the Connect 2030 agenda.
Read more about ITU Study Group 5 here.
Improving and Collecting Data
ITU is a founding member of the Global E-waste Statistics Partnership, which also includes the United Nations University (UNU) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). It provides a global overview of the e-waste situation. The Partnership’s open source portal globalewaste.org visualizes e-waste data and statistics globally, by region and by country. It includes e-waste data from Global and Regional E-waste Monitors for most countries, including the amount of e-waste generated in total and per capita and discarded prior to any collection, reuse, treatment, or export; the amount of e-waste formally collected in total and per capita, plus e-waste legislation by country.
Read more on the Global e-waste Statistics Partnership here.
Projects & activities
ITU is continually engaged in several promotion activities with strategic partners, to elevate the global e-waste challenge into the worldwide environmental agenda. To this end, ITU collaborates with the WEEE Forum in the organisation of International E-waste Day, which takes place in October every year. At the same time, ITU collaborates with partners in the publication of visionary papers, striving to raise public awareness in the areas of circular economy, carbon emissions and policy coverage – in e-waste.
ITU together with UNIDO and other partners are working together on a Global Environmental Facility (GEF) funded project in Latin America, which helps to strengthen regional cooperation in Latin- American countries. ITU-T is developing two case studies to implement ITU-T recommendations in areas such as sustainable e-waste management or recycling of rare metals in ICT equipment, with a view to informing stakeholders, gaining new knowledge, establishing best practise guidelines, improving existing recommendations and more. ITU’s Development Sector (ITU-D) is supporting the project through its development of the Regional E-waste Monitor for Latin America.
United Nations E-waste coalitionDuring WSIS in 2018, ITU and a number of other UN entities joined forces, signing a Letter of Intent, paving the way for greater coordination and collaboration on United Nations system-wide support for e-waste management, targeting 3 core areas: advocacy, knowledge sharing and intervention.
78 countries covered by legislation, policy or regulation;
Global e-waste generated in 2019 is 53.6 million tonnes; and
The value of raw materials in the global generation of e-waste in 2019 is approximately US$57 billion (mostly from iron, copper, gold).
- Find out more on the background, who’s involved and goals of the e-waste coalition here.
Reports & publications
Want to find out more on e-waste? Explore ITU’s reports and publications spanning e-waste and the environment here. See also the list of ITU standards here.
[i] E-waste is defined by the Technical Guidelines of the Basel Convention as electrical and electronic equipment that is waste, including all components, sub-assemblies and consumables that are part of the equipment at the time the equipment becomes waste. Such equipment comprises any household or business item with circuitry, or electrical components with a power or battery supply. A substantial amount of e-waste includes waste derived from discarded ICT equipment such as mobile phones, personal computers, printers, telephones, laptops and routers. At the same time, a growing number of other types of products such as temperature exchange equipment and white goods are functioning as 'smart technologies', relying on sensors and connectivity to other devices.