UN, World Economic Forum, and Partners Come Together to Address E-waste Challenges

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  • 2019•01•24     Davos

    Technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution show a huge potential and could lead to “dematerialization”, better product tracking, take-back and recycling, and products sold as services.

    62.5 billion US dollars in materials lost in approximate annual 50 million tonnes of e-waste, which could nearly triple by 2050.

    Davos, Switzerland, 24 January 2019​ – Seven UN entities have come together, supported by the World Economic Forum, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), to call for an overhaul of the current electronics system, with the aim of supporting international efforts to address e-waste challenges.

    The report calls for a systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), academia, trade unions, civil society and associations in a deliberative process to reorient the system and reduce the waste of resources each year with a value greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of most countries.

    Each year, approximately 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded — the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion US dollars — more than the GDP of most countries.

    Less than 20% of this is recycled formally. Informally, millions of people worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work to dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment.

    The report, ​“A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot”,​ launched in Davos on 24 January, says technologies such as cloud computing and the internet of things (IoT), support gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.

    Meanwhile, to capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and create global circular value chains, the report also points to the use of new technology to create service business models, better product tracking and manufacturer or retailer take-back programs.

    The report notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure, and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production.

    And if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide.

    The joint report calls for collaboration with multinationals, SMEs, entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced, and decent work is created for millions.

    The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes the:

    • United Nations University (UNU);
    • International Labour Organization (ILO);
    • International Telecommunication Union (ITU);
    • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment);
    • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO);
    • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); and
    • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm conventions

    The Coalition is supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Economic Forum and is coordinated by the Secretariat of the Environment Management Group (EMG).

    Considerable work is being done on the ground. For example, in order to grasp the opportunity of the circular economy, today the Nigerian Government, the Global Environment Facility and UN Environment announced a two million US dollar investment to kick off the formal e-waste recycling industry in Nigeria. The new investment will leverage over 13 million US dollars in additional financing from the private sector.

    According to the International Labour Organization, in Nigeria up 100,000 people work in the informal e-waste sector. This investment will help to create a system which formalizes these workers, giving them safe and decent employment while capturing the latent value in Nigeria’s 500,000 tonnes of e-waste.

    UNIDO collaborates with a large number of organizations on e-waste projects, including UNU, ILO, ITU, and WHO, as well as various other partners, such as Dell and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). In the Latin American and Caribbean region, a UNIDO e-waste project, co-funded by GEF, seeks to support sustainable economic and social growth in 13 countries. From upgrading e-waste recycling facilities, to helping to establish national e-waste management strategies, the initiative adopts a circular economy approach, while enhancing regional cooperation.

    Another Platform for ​Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) report ​launched today by the World Economic Forum, with support from Accenture Strategy, outlines a future in which Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies provide a tool to achieve a circular economy efficiently and effectively, and where all physical materials are accompanied by a digital dataset (like a passport or fingerprint for materials), creating an ‘internet of materials.’ PACE is a collaboration mechanism and project accelerator hosted by the World Economic Forum which brings together 50 leaders from business, government and international organizations to collaborate in moving towards the circular economy.


    David Malone, Rector, United Nations University (UNU) & UN Under-Secretary General
    “UNU’s and its world-wide partners’ research and advocacy of sustainable e-waste practices have substantially contributed to placing the issue of electronic waste on the political agenda. But current efforts are insufficient to address this fast-growing problem. We need to develop innovative policies. We need to establish and monitor targets so we can measure whether our policies have any impact. We need new multi-stakeholder alliances, because reducing e-waste will require the cooperation of many actors, including the private sector. We hope that the E-Waste Coalition and this report will instigate the important innovation required.”

    Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
    “ITU has been raising awareness and guiding efforts to reduce and rethink e-waste since 2011. So I am delighted to see that a movement to promote a circular economy for electronics is now gaining ground. Together, with newly created partnerships such as the United Nations E-waste Coalition, we can transform waste into wealth, and deliver development benefits to all.”

    Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)
    “A circular economy brings with it tremendous environmental and economic benefits for us all. UN Environment is proud to support this innovative partnership with the Government of Nigeria and the Global Environment Facility and support the country’s efforts to kick start a circular electronics system. Our planet’s survival will depend on how well we retain the value of products within the system by extending their life.”

    Peter Bakker, President and CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)
    “Global e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream and presents societal and environmental risk. This summary clearly lays out why we must act at scale, now, and collaborate between business, international organizations, governments and NGOs. WBCSD is committed, through Factor10 and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, to achieving a world where waste has no place.”

    Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization
    “Thousands of tonnes of e-waste is disposed of by the world’s poorest workers in the worst of conditions, putting their health and lives at risk. We need better e-waste strategies and green standards as well as closer collaboration between governments, employers and unions to make the circular economy work for both people and planet.”’

    Stephan Sicars, Director, Department of Environment, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
    “E-waste is a growing global challenge that poses a serious threat to the environment and human health worldwide. To minimize this threat, UNIDO works with various UN agencies and other partners on a range of e-waste projects, all of which are underpinned by a circular economy approach. This UN coalition is taking steps towards a cleaner, more sustainable and safer future, and in doing so, demonstrating how such cooperation can lead to transformational results where the total is greater than the sum of its parts.”

    Nikhil Seth, Executive Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)
    “Working together with the UN coalition on E-waste presents a new paradigm shift and a new dispensation with tremendous opportunities to support countries march towards a cleaner and more sustainable way of managing e-waste. UNITAR recognizes urgent needs in training and capacity building in the e-waste management value chain based on the national training needs assessment, and we are pleased to support this partnership and countries through our programmes.”

    Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary, Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
    “The global e-waste problem is one of the most pressing environmental issues we face, with significant threats to human health, especially for women, children, and other vulnerable groups such as the poor, often working in the informal recycling sector in developing countries without proper protective equipment and without following established norms. That is why 187 Parties to the Basel Convention have worked together to develop technical guidelines to ensure the environmentally sound management of e-waste, including concerning recycling and recovery of materials from mobile phones and computing equipment, and transboundary movements of waste and its proper disposal.”

    Dominic Waughray, Head of the Centre for Global Public Goods, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum
    “The circular economy offer incredible benefits, but it does require us to be less transactional with our resources, stewarding them through the economy rather than throwing them out after one use. The Fourth Industrial Revolution offers us the ability to rethink resource flows, while also providing better services to consumers. It’s time to unlock that innovation potential. The innovative capacity of the electronics sector and the value inside the materials in electronics makes it the best place to start.”


    The joint report, ​“A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot,”​ is available for media preview at: ​http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_A_New_Circular_Vision_for_Electronics.pdf

    Media with full Davos accreditation are invited to a press briefing on how to deal with the electronic waste crisis. Speakers include Frans van Houten, CEO, Royal Philips; Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility (GEF); and Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union. The briefing will be held in the Press Conference Room, Media Village in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday, 24 January 2019, 18:30 CET.

    The briefing will be live streamed at: https://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-annual-meeting/sessions/a0W0X0000 0EUKRYUA5


    Media Contacts

    Terry Collins, Media Expert, ​tc@tca.tc​, Tel.: +1 416 538 8712
    Ruediger Kuehr, Director, UNU-ViE SCYCLE, ​kuehr@vie.unu.edu​, ​Tel.:​ ​+49 228 815 02 13

    Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (BRS):
    Charlie Avis, ​charles.avis@brsmeas.org​, Tel.: +41 79 730 4495

    ILO News Room​, ​newsroom@ilo.org

    Monica Albertini, Senior Communications and Promotion Officer, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, ​monica.albertini@itu.int​, Tel.: +41 79 808 6065

    UN Environment:
    Shari Nijman, UN Environment News and Media, ​nijman@un.org

    Sayaphol Sackda, UNIDO Advocacy and Media Relations Officer (OIC), ​​s.sackda@unido.org

    Akiko Perona, Chief, Communication and Information Technology Support Unit, akiko.perona@unitar.org

    World Economic Forum:
    Jahda Swanborough, jahda.swanborough@weforum.org

    World Business Council for Sustainable Development:
    Nicolas Jammes, ​jammes@wbcsd.org

    Environment Management Group:
    Jannica Pitkänen, Programme Management Officer, ​jannica.pitkanen-brunnsberg@un.org