Smarter Ways to Deal with Used Electronics

Rick Goss photo

ITI is in Geneva, Switzerland, all week, actively participating with dozens of governments and other stakeholders in the 8th meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG 8) of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.  If you’re still reading after that introduction…thank you!

We are here representing the global high-tech sector and throwing our support behind efforts to control the illicit trade in waste electronics.  There are innumerable exporters, brokers and shippers all over the world who seek to make a quick buck by sending broken electronics and obsolete appliances to facilities in developing countries that lack the ability to properly manage them.  While there are safe and qualified management facilities in the developing world, it has become all too commonplace for these waste shipments to be manually dismantled out in the open by untrained people working without any safety precautions.

In many of these instances, local populations try to scratch out a living by burning plastic cables to reclaim the metals inside, or using acids and solvents to recover a fraction of the tiny amount of precious metals contained on certain components.  These unsafe approaches have led to well-documented and unacceptable impacts on human health and the local environment.  Governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations are coordinating here in Geneva to try and end this deplorable practice.

The high-tech sector also is working here to clearly differentiate our legitimate global repair and reuse activities from these illegal and improper shipments.  Repairing and reusing electronic equipment and appliances provides significant environmental, economic and social benefits.  While demand among first-world consumers and business customers remains high for innovative “next generation” devices, properly-maintained electronic products will function through many years and through many owners.

By extending the useful life of valuable equipment, we maximize the use of the resources they contain while simultaneously limiting demand for raw materials and mining.  Information and communications technology (ICT) equipment and sophisticated medical devices are understandably in high demand in developing countries.  Properly repaired and refurbished goods are safe and reliable, and provide populations in developing countries with cost-effective access to the internet, computers, cell phones, medical devices and other equipment and services that we in the developed world have come to take for granted.

I’ve included below the official statement that ITI made at the opening session of the OEWG 8 here on Tuesday:

Distinguished delegates, attendees and stakeholders, I represent the Information Technology Industry Council, a business association of global technology manufacturers and innovation leaders.  We share the concern of Parties, Signatories and other stakeholders in properly addressing the challenges associated with the illegal movement of waste electronics.  The improper shipment of electrical and electronic waste that is hazardous results in documented human health and environmental impacts, particularly in developing countries, and its control should be a priority for the Basel Convention. 

At the same time, it is critical that we work together to preserve the legitimate movement of valuable electronic equipment for proper and environmentally-responsible repair, refurbishment and return to commerce.  The environmental, economic and social benefits of reusing electronics and electrical equipment are clear and undeniable, and help provide developing countries and countries with economies in transition with access to sophisticated and cost-efficient medical devices and ICT equipment.  Our companies have established leading global systems for the safe and appropriate assessment, refurbishment and reuse of used equipment, and these efforts can serve as models for proper management.  We urge the Parties to focus efforts on stopping the illicit movement of waste while also recognizing the critical benefits of reusing valuable equipment.  We stand ready to lend our expertise in pursuit of both of these critical objectives.

Our effort here in Geneva is just the latest step in our years-long engagement in Basel Convention issues related to electronics.  While the issue of waste electronics won’t be resolved here this week, the work between governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector at OEWG 8 represents a major milestone in the overall initiative.

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