Sustainable Production, Consumption and Disposal

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  • SCYCLE, an acronym for Sustainable Cycles, is active in enabling societies to reduce the environmental load of the production, use, and disposal of — especially but not exclusively — electrical and electronic equipment to sustainable levels, through the development and promotion of independent, comprehensive and practical research as a sound basis for policy development and decision-making. Within this context, SCYCLE — as the only Operating Unit of the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace — actively i) conducts research on eco-structuring towards sustainable societies; ii) develops interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder public–private partnerships; iii) undertakes education, training, and capacity development in both developed and developing countries; and, iv) facilitates and disseminates practical, science-based recommendations to the United Nations and its agencies, governments, scholars, industry and the public.


    SCYCLE activities towards the intended E-waste Academy are jointly developed with Accra-based the UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa, which will also be the host of the first E-waste Academy for policymakers, envisaged for early 2012.

    Focal Point

    SCYCLE activities and research are coordinated by Operating Unit/Programme Head Dr. Ruediger Kuehr, who is also serving as Executive Secretary of the UNU-hosted Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative.


    Due to continuous advancements in and increasing relevance and significance of technology, SCYCLE is aiming to address and develop sustainable solutions for the increasing quantities of electrical and electronic equipment entering both markets and waste streams, thereby providing a multi-dimensional framework and fostering a paradigm shift toward closed-loop, zero-waste societies. In addition, it is working towards strategic sustainable development through, for example, the clustering of various industries and making the waste/emissions of one industry a resource for another industry.


    By actively engaging relevant actors — including its programme team and expansive network of stakeholders from academia, NGOs, industry, governments and other UN organizations — SCYCLE takes a holistic, science-based approach towards the realization of a sustainable industrial–societal system. This cross-cutting approach is guided by life cycle thinking involving the development of sound policy recommendations, encouraging sustainable design, responsible re-use and safe recovery of materials complemented by rigorous capacity building and knowledge raising in both developed and developing countries.


    SCYCLE attempts to actively support and follow the gender policies and perspectives of the UN in all of its activities. As an example, in the successful E-waste Summer School, conceptualized and organized by SCYCLE, for the past three years the gender balance of participants has been: 9 male and 7 female (2009); 8 male and 11 female (2010); and 10 male and 9 female (2011). Regarding SCYCLE staff, the core team comprises two females and two males; the remaining SCYCLE team consists of one female and five males.

    Target Audience

    Because of the interdisciplinary, multi-dimensional approach of SCYCLE’s core activities, various target groups are identified as primary recipients of SCYCLE research and teaching activities: policymakers in both developed and developing/transition countries including the European Commission, the United States, German, Turkish, Ethiopian and Nigerian governments, and other UN organizations including the United Nations Environment Programme, the Basel and Stockholm Conventions, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, as well as producers, materials end-processors and civil society.

    Intended Impact

    Impact: Influencing policymaking in the United Nations System
    Target: The programme strives for development of a globally harmonized approach towards a sustainable solution of the e-waste problem
    How: This will be accomplished by collaborating with all relevant stakeholder groups toward science-based but nevertheless applied recommendations accompanied with the necessary data and evidence to informing decision-making in, e.g., the Basel and Stockholm Convention, the European or African Union but also on national and regional levels.

    Impact: Influencing policymaking at the international level
    Target: The programme strives for development of a globally harmonized approach towards a sustainable solution of the e-waste problem
    How: This will be accomplished by collaborating with all relevant stakeholder groups toward science-based but nevertheless applied recommendations accompanied with the necessary data and evidences, informing the decision-making, in e.g., the Basel and Stockholm Convention, the European or African Union but also on national and regional levels.

    Impact: Curriculum development
    Target: The programme seeks establishment of necessary interdisciplinary curricula, which provide an overview of the complexity of the e-waste issue, but also possible approaches towards a sustainable solution
    How: Through the annual interdisciplinary E-waste Summer School and its interactive, rigorous programme on the solutions to the complexities of the e-waste problem complemented by the conceptualized E-waste Academy curriculum for policymakers and small- and medium-sized enterprises jointly organized and conducted with leading experts from around the world.

    Impact: Capacity development in developed/developing countries
    Target: Increase public, scientific and business awareness regarding the global e-waste problem. SCYCLE aims to achieve this by offering open access to the knowledge and experiences gained in our activities, of related and welcomed initiatives in global e-waste management as well as by actively engaging in training and capacity development
    How: UNU-ISP SCYCLE and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), an initiative of ICT companies, have agreed to join forces and collaboratively engage in the realization of training for policymakers, enforcement personal and representatives of small- and medium-sized companies, bringing these stakeholders as well as the PhD and postdoctoral students of the E-waste Summer School under the joint umbrella of an E-waste Academy. The primary objectives are to: i) create a platform for policymakers, legislators and other professionals involved in e-waste management to share knowledge and exchange valuable first-hand experiences; ii) enable policymakers to increase knowledge capacity and better understand the complexities of e-waste management and regulation; iii) support better informed decision-making; iv) address e-waste in developing countries where unsafe and environmentally risky practices of informal sectors pose great risks to health and environment; and v) offer an interactive, interdisciplinary platform to PhD/postdoctoral students and experts from around the world fostering an apparatus for knowledge transfer, expert feedback and shared first-hand experiences

    Research Findings

    Being a nascent, yet advancing field, SCYCLE is expecting concrete research findings and results in relation to the production, consumption and disposal of ubiquitous goods. In the implementation phase, the StEP seed-funded “E-waste and Climate Change” project will deliver quantitative results on GHG emissions released throughout the life cycle of select electronic equipment and investigate the GHG mitigation potential through carbon trading markets. A direct research result of the “E-waste Indicators” project was the conceptualization of the “E-waste Solutions Index”, aiming to produce a composite index enabling comparison of country performance and efforts in solutions to the e-waste problem.

    SCYCLE also intends to continue efforts to quantify volumes of electrical and electronic equipment establishing a comprehensive overview of the amounts of e-waste generated, but also collected and properly treated, generating valuable science-based data hitherto unavailable. SCYCLE’s United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA)-funded activities will deliver concrete qualitative and quantitative data on exports of used electronics complemented by interactive collaboration activities with developing countries in fostering e-waste management strategies. As SCYCLE employs and maintains a cross-cutting, interdisciplinary approach to its programmatic research objectives, research findings and results are often horizontally transferable as data input for other existing and/or initiating projects and activities.

    Policy Bridging

    Policy bridging vis-à-vis dissemination of data-supported policy recommendations and qualitative analyses is paramount to the realization and application of SCYCLE’s programme agenda. Within the UNU-hosted Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative, activities are steered towards developing policy-oriented recommendations and suggestions to governments and officials in developed and developing countries. For example, in light of a scheduled review of the European Union (EU) Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, a StEP subgroup finalized a White Paper containing clear, fact-supported recommendations for improvement. A StEP subgroup commented on the Nigerian draft e-waste legislation and provided feedback. Such requests from national governments have accentuated the exigency for technical, holistic expertise on policy formulation, especially in developing countries.

    Leading a work package on policy recommendations in the EU-funded “ZeroWIN” project, SCYCLE undertook an analysis of EU waste legislation transcending various industry sectors in order to evaluate the existing policy potential towards realizing zero-waste societies through industrial networks. This analysis was complemented with a qualitative stakeholder questionnaire on the effectiveness and barriers of EU waste legislation.

    SCYCLE will also be integrating research findings into policy advice for the US, the South Pacific and some East African governments within the scope of US-EPA used electronics tracking activities.

    Value Added

    By enabling societies to reduce the adverse impacts resulting from production, consumption and disposal of waste, SCYCLE is taking a holistic, science-based approach toward the realization of sustainable, zero-waste societies, thus benefiting the United Nations system and its Member States. Additionally, SCYCLE engages other UN Organizations in its activities in order to synergize and exchange knowledge and best-practices on common and/or complementary research activities but also to avoid duplication of efforts.

    Using the lens of sustainability as a guiding principle, SCYCLE thematically contributes to the UNU system by steering its programmatic activities towards developing sustainable societies within the context of waste, especially electrical and electronic waste. Institutionally, SCYCLE collaborates with other UNU institutes on e-waste and resources themes, most notably the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security, the UNU the UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa and the UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health . With three successful e-waste summer schools for PhD and postdoctoral students and a proposed e-waste academy for government officials and recyclers, SCYCLE is actively undertaking interdisciplinary training and capacity building activities providing eager students and expert stakeholders with an interactive platform for knowledge transfer.

    When it comes to added value for government and policymakers, SCYCLE regularly disseminates policy and legislative recommendations to national governments from developed and developing countries. Such practical recommendations are supported by holistic science-based research from the programme team and pool of experts.

    Because of the multi-stakeholder composition of the UNU-hosted and SCYCLE coordinated StEP Initiative, SCYCLE collaborates incessantly with other international organizations on its programme objectives, thereby both enhancing and complementing SCYCLE research, capacity building and project results while simultaneously strengthening strategic partnerships and fostering a platform for potential cooperation with future stakeholders.


    One of the primary vehicles of sharing project and research results and outputs is through the dissemination of SCYCLE publications, which are made available on both the UNU-ISP, UNU in Bonn and StEP websites, and with hard copies provided to those interested. SCYCLE quarterly reports on progress of the programme are submitted to UNU-Centre ensuring a timely and insightful snapshot into SCYCLE activities and progression. In cases of inter-institutional collaboration with other UNU institutes, project progress and outputs will be developed, realized and shared in a cooperative approach.

    In terms of publications, the StEP Initiative publishes an Annual Report providing an overview on the previous year’s activities and accomplishments while also providing an outlook for the year ahead. SCYCLE also publishes and diffuses white papers that incorporate science-based recommendations to decision makers and relevant stakeholders; green papers that present research findings in order to stimulate further discussion; flyers giving a comprehensive, yet concise overview of SCYCLE’s mission and position within the UNU; presentation of concrete project ideas, progress and results at international conferences and symposia; international press releases on significant milestones achieved by SCYCLE; and interviews and press conferences on significant milestones to interested media outlets. Additionally, it is foreseen that bilateral correspondence be continued with content-related/thematic cluster-related programmes and institutes that could benefit from corresponding project results and outputs.

    Timeline/Programme Cycle

    SCYCLE has short-, mid- and long-term objectives due to the complexity of the problem field. Therefore, due to the increasing visibility of problems and issues associated with the production, consumption and disposal of e-waste, the projected timeline of the programme is long term, with present planning focused on January 2012 to December 2013.


    There are various standard mechanisms for evaluating the progress of a programme. SCYCLE intends to use programme and project progress reports to monitor and evaluate progress and measure results and outputs against the initial work plan. SCYCLE will also measure progress through bilateral meetings with the Director of UNU-ISP to gather feedback on the programme’s trajectory and ensure SCYCLE objectives remain in line with those indicated in the UNU Strategic Plan 2011-2014. The annual internal review by the advisory board also provides a mechanism, elaborated by the expert composition on the advisory board, to assess programme progress from various perspectives and vantage points.

    In addition, progress of StEP-related work is monitored by an international steering committee consisting of representatives from all relevant stakeholder-groups and by all members in the annual General Assemblies. The inclusion of certain indicators and benchmarks also provides an apparatus for gauging the programme’s progress. Such indicators as project acquisition, media coverage, programme funding, number of publications and presence at international conferences and fora will all be used to measure SCYCLE progress.


    Potential identified risks to programme and project implementation would be further escalation of the world financial crisis that could have an adverse fiscal affect on the availability of project funding. Increased political instability could potentially stall planned capacity building activities in select developing countries.

  • Activities within the Sustainable Production, Consumption and Disposal Programme will involve cooperation between the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace  and eight partners:

    UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa
    UNU Vice Rectorate in Europe
    Griffith University
    Global Environment Facility
    International Telecommunication Union
    United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
    United Nations Environmental Programme
    United Nations Industrial Development Organization

  • Dr. Kazuhiko Takeuchi, Director
    United Nations University
    Institute for Sustainability and Peace
    United Nations University
    5-53-70 Jingumae
    Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
    Japan 150-8925

    T: +81 3 5467-1212
    F: +81 3 3499-2828