More and more people are benefiting from the opportunities of the modern digital economy and the goods and services it produces. The rapid advancement of the ICT sector means newer and more sophisticated mobile phones, laptops and television sets are entering the market every day and often consumers will dispose of their older gadgets and then upgrade to a newer model. Product lifecycles have become shorter, and many designs do not support repair or reuse. As a result, the amount of electronic and electrical equipment waste – or e-waste – being generated is growing rapidly.
Used, broken, or obsolete electronic equipment contains substances that pose considerable environmental and health risks, especially when disposed of in unregulated dumps or when they are subject to recovery operations without due consideration. Today, most of the production, management, and recycling of e-waste is not properly documented and it is not treated through appropriate recycling chains and methods. Most e-waste ends up in disposal sites or facilities, even though many electronic products contain valuable materials, including gold, that are wasted.
An important step towards tackling this e-waste challenge will be to track and measure the amount of e-waste being produced. Statistics help to evaluate developments over time, set and assess targets, and identify best practices of policies. Through this, better e-waste data will also help to minimize its generation, prevent illegal dumping, and promote reuse and recycling. This creates better quality jobs in the reuse, refurbishment and recycling sectors. Cutting down on e-waste generation and instead promoting its environmentally friendly disposal will contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 12, to “ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”.
A global target to ‘reduce the volume of redundant e-waste by 50% by 2020’ was set by the ITU Membership in 2014 at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference. However, despite this recognition of the importance of monitoring e-waste, and the emergence of a set of harmonized e-waste indicators, including definitions and methodologies, only about 40 countries in the world currently collect internationally comparable statistics on e-waste. Existing global and regional estimates are based on production and trade statistics but should eventually be replaced by nationally produced data.
To address this problem, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), United Nations University (UNU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) have formed the Global e-Waste Statistics Partnership. The main objectives of this partnership are to build capacity in order to help countries produce reliable and comparable e-waste statistics, to collect data from countries, and build a global e-waste database to track developments over time and to inform policy makers and industry. In November 2017, the Partnership will publish the Global e-Waste Monitor, a comprehensive report which will provide a review of the e-waste challenge and publish 2017 estimates for global e-waste quantities.
Through its work, the Partnership will further help identify recycling opportunities and identify best practices of global e-waste management. To expand its scope and accelerate progress, the Partnership is seeking to engage with other public and private partners interested in addressing the global e-waste challenge.