E-waste[i], also known as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world, according to the Global E-waste Monitor. 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.
In the e-waste challenge lies a wealth of opportunity to recover valuable raw materials and create new jobs in recycling.
Through story maps and e-learning courses, ITU seeks to make knowledge on e-waste policy and management widely available.
National Policy and Regulatory Development
It is estimated that 39% of all countries are covered by e-waste (WEEE) policy, legislation or regulation. To assist Member States to balance their economic and social development with their environmental management, ITU provides a programme dedicated to policy and regulatory development. The programme is guided by ITU’s high-level targets, by 2023 to:
- Increase the global e-waste recycling rate to 30%
- Raise the percentage of countries with a e-waste legislation to 50%
Member States can request ITU technical assistance and capacity building to support national or regional e-waste policy development
- Read more about the WEEE Policy Support here
- Read more about the toolkit here.
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.
The E-waste Iconathon was an icon design contest that aimed to raise awareness about the global e-waste issue and leverage the participation of youth globally. Young people of ages 18-29 were invited to participate and design a universal icon that signifies the take-back and collection of e-waste for recycling purposes. Meet the winner here.
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? The thought paper, Digital solutions for a circular electronics value chain explores the applicability and scope of digital technologies for enabling circularity in the lifecycle of electronic devices. Read it here. 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.