A global system can tackle e-waste until developing countries can do so themselves

Rich and poor nations should link up to recycle e-waste

By Ruediger Kuehr , Feng Wang

A global system can tackle e-waste until developing countries can do so themselves, say Ruediger Kuehr and Feng Wang.

Since the 1990s, electrical and electronic equipment have revolutionised people’s lives. And with ever-increasing technological innovation, their lifetimes are, on the whole, decreasing. This means that electronic waste — or e-waste — is a fast-growing waste stream. The UN University (UNU) predicts that e-waste will rise from the 41 million tonnes currently produced each year to 47 million tonnes in 2017. [1]

This is a challenge for waste management as many electronic products contain hazardous materials, as well as valuable elements.

It’s well documented that used equipment is also shipped to developing countries for reuse, but much of it still ends up as e-waste. The unsophisticated, informal recycling common in many countries pollutes the environment and puts people’s health at risk.

But now a more complex picture is emerging: since 2013, the developing and transition countries have been producing more e-waste than the so called industrialised world. Latin America, for example, contributed approximately 3.95 million tonnes to the world’s e-waste mountain last year. [1]

“There is a way to offer affordable and environmentally friendly recycling for developing countries: through cooperation between local dismantling operations and the global networks of infrastructure that can further refine materials.”

Ruediger Kuehr and Feng Wang

Innovative models are needed to tackle the problem until developing countries are better equipped to deal with such waste themselves — and one such model is already being developed.

Limited e-waste regulation

Of the 21 Latin American countries, e-waste regulations are in place only in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. But in the absence of a national strategy, most of them only operate at the local level.

Meanwhile, only Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico have R2-certified facilities, an internationally recognised standard for responsible recycling. This is partly due to limited legal requirements, a lack of awareness of pollution control during recycling and limited training opportunities.

Overall, in much of the developing world there is a lack of systems covering e-waste management through the different stages of collection, pre-processing (to liberate components from the waste) and end-processing (refining and disposing of materials). Often there is insufficient funding to support technology transfer and a sophisticated recycling industry. Establishing modern infrastructure requires substantial technological know-how, large investments in industrial equipment and environmental control measures.

The wide involvement of the informal sector also makes it difficult to establish effective systems to collect e-waste from consumers. Consumers’ low awareness is another barrier.

Global recycling

But there is a way to offer affordable and environmentally friendly recycling for developing countries: through cooperation between local dismantling operations and the global networks of infrastructure that can further refine materials.

This can be achieved through a global ‘reverse supply chain’, where treatment facilities in various locations work together to deliver recycling solutions for different materials and at different treatment stages.

Such a concept has already been developed by the institutions involved in the Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative coordinated by UNU. The concept, called Best-of-2-Worlds (Bo2W), aims to integrate technical and logistical aspects of best practice in advanced, international end-processing facilities.

Dismantling is a highly efficient way to separate materials and components from e-waste, and is also economically viable due to low labour costs and little need for equipment. At the same time, fractions such as circuit boards and batteries require high-tech treatment that is usually unavailable in developing countries. Under the Bo2W concept, these would be delivered to global facilities for safe and efficient refining and disposal.

In this way, the initiative connects the best pre-processing already occurring in developing countries (manual dismantling) with the best end-processing (material refinery and disposal) in the global treatment network.

Reducing environmental impact

StEP member institutions have conducted several trials to compare the environmental and economic performances of this Bo2W concept with other conventional recycling scenarios. Such scenarios include informal recycling techniques — such as dismantling then extracting materials with acid leaching of circuit boards and other extraction methods — as well as direct landfill disposal or mechanical processing such as shredding.

The assessment showed that the Bo2W concept is more economical and environmentally friendly than other solutions. For instance, shredding generates less pure recyclables because materials mix more easily with each other at smaller sizes. By comparison, manual dismantling as part of Bo2W can separate fractions effectively with minimal mixing of materials — and it requires little investment in equipment and labour.

On the other hand, typical backyard refinery activities score worse for environmental impacts and economic gains compared with modern refinery practices. This means that safely disposing of e-waste containing hazardous substances demands support from strong domestic laws, proper financing and international cooperation.

A short-term solution

But in the short term, the Bo2W initiative can be a pragmatic solution until developing countries can establish full end-processing facilities. Its implementation should be flexible and adjusted to local conditions. This could, for example, decide the depth of dismantling and what fractions to send to global facilities.

Experiences from pilot projects in China and India have also highlighted societal factors that influence successful implementation. [2] For instance, the model would work well in a relatively small country generating limited amounts of e-waste because the domestic waste stream cannot justify building a full-scale refinery.

To work effectively, Bo2W also requires a well-functioning reporting, registration and tracking system to guarantee the safe movement of fractions between countries. Such cooperation through a global network can also facilitate sharing knowledge on materials and treatment techniques. And, in the long run, it can help establish local refinery facilities in developing countries, when sufficient financing and technology know-how become available.

Ruediger Kuehr is head of Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE), an operating unit of UNU’s Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability based in Bonn, Germany. Feng Wang is a research associate at SCYCLE. Kuehr can be contacted at kuehr@unu.edu and Wang at fwang@unu.edu


[1] Kees Baldé and others The global e-waste monitor — 2014, Quantities, flows and resources (UN University, to be published in 2015)
[2] Feng Wang and others The Best-of-2-Worlds philosophy: Developing local dismantling and global infrastructure network for sustainable e-waste treatment in emerging economies (Waste Management, 2012)

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

A global system can tackle e-waste until developing countries can do so themselves

Education Post-2015: Recurring Themes

Originally posted on NORRAG NEWSBite:

By Robert Palmer, NORRAG.

Education post2015This is the second blog in a series of post-2015 reflection blogs (see first blog here); a synthesis review of NORRAG NEWSBite’s post-2015 education blogs over the last couple of years.

There is an overwhelming view that the next round of education targets needs to be more ambitious than the 2015 targets, even while there is acknowledgment that the 2015 targets remain an unfinished agenda. The world in 2015, and the world in 2030, will be very different from 2000, and education is regarded as being central to the whole post-2015 global development agenda (Adams). There is indeed a lot of interest in examining how global changes will impact education (and of course, vice-versa). Perhaps not surprisingly, one of most read blogs on post-2015 has been about global mega trends and the post-2015 agenda for education.

In about six months’ time…

View original 1,058 more words

Education Post-2015: Recurring Themes

Education, Learning, Training: Critical Issues for Development

Education, Learning, Training: Critical Issues for Development is the new issue 5|2014 of International Development Policy.

Carbonnier, Gilles, Michel Carton and Kenneth King (Eds.) (2014) Education, Learning, Training: Critical Issues for Development, International Development Policy series No.5, Geneva: Graduate Institute Publications, Boston: Brill-Nijhoff, 220 p. (EAN: 9789004281141)

Education: Fundamental human right or strategic tool in support of economic growth? To what extent can this tension be defused? How does commodity-dependence influence education policy and practice? What is the role of vocational training vis-à-vis university education in developing countries? Are MOOCs and Chinese cooperation a game changer for higher education in Africa? And how does student migration sit vis-à-vis the globalisation of knowledge? These and other questions lie at the heart of Education, Learning, Training: Critical Issues for Development, a collection of essays edited by Gilles Carbonnier, Michel Carton, and Kenneth King, which explore 50 years of international discourse surrounding education and development. Drawing on examples from Africa, Asia and Latin America, the articles examine issues hitherto largely neglected, but of increasing relevance to researchers and policymakers.
International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement.via International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement.

Education, Learning, Training: Critical Issues for Development

Celebrating and learning about think tanks

Karsten Weitzenegger:

Excellent analysis of think tanks by Enrique Mendizabal, not only valid for Peru.

Originally posted on on think tanks:

The Premio PODER al Thin Tank del Año in Peru, inspired by Prospect Magazine’s own award, offers an opportunity to celebrate the good work that think tanks do for their countries and learn a lot about them in the meantime.

Thinktankers from all over the country met last 29th October at the El Virrey bookstore in Lima for what could become an annual think tank party. For the record, the winners were:

  1. Think tank of the year: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP)
  2. Regional think tank of the year: Instituto de Economía y Empresa (IEE)
  3. Economic and financial policy think tank of the year: Centro de Investigación de la Universidad del Pacífico (CIUP)
  4. Social policy think tank of the year:  Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE) and Centro de Investigación de la Universidad del Pacífico (CIUP)
  5. Environmental, climate change and natural resources policy think tank of the year: 

View original 2,516 more words

Celebrating and learning about think tanks

Doing Development Differently: mission impossible?

Karsten Weitzenegger:

Arnaldo Pellini works in development and lives in Southeast Asia. He blogs about governance and the demand and use of evidence in policy making.

Originally posted on Demand 4 Evidence:


Yesterday evening was my turn to be with our daughters and read the good night book. We are making progress in Harry Potter N.1 in Italian. However both my daughters are currently very much into Wimpy Kids and preferred to read on their own. So I sat on the floor next to their beds and switched on my laptop, reached Duncan Green’s blog and read his thoughts about the recent Doing Development Differently (#differentdev) seminar which has hosted by Harvard’s Building State Capabilities programme in collaboration with ODI’s Politics and Governance programme.

Doping Development Differently? How? Duncan Green summarizes it as remembering to develop small-scale experiments, monitor them closely, learn and research what works, share it. At the same time build relationships and trust. Understand really well the context in which your interventions will operate, be flexible and adapt to change. Build momentum with quick wins (i.e. experiments that supports…

View original 895 more words

Doing Development Differently: mission impossible?

Africa’s future trade relations link to the Global South

One of the themes at this year’s African Development Forum, an UN ECA event, was new forms of partnership. The idea is to move away from development assistance and adapting to the realities of today. Global economic trends reflect the ongoing geopolitical and economic rebalancing in favour of developing and emerging economies, particularly Brazil, China and India, all of which call for stronger South-South partnerships.

Prior the economic crisis, Africa’s share of trade with other emerging markets was a mere 30%. Today that has gone up to nearer 50%, and by 2020, on current trends that could be as much as 70%.

At the opening the session, Inyang Ebong-Harstrup, Deputy Director of UN Office for South-South Cooperation said, “I believe there is a deep sense that south-south should be the foundation for Africa.”

According to the ECA report, in Africa, for example, developing countries’ exports and imports have increased in just 15 years from 26 to 43 per cent, and from 33 to 50 per cent respectively. Furthermore, foreign direct investment from the five emerging economies known as the BRICS countries – Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa – reached 25 per cent of total foreign direct investment in Africa in 2010 and continues to increase. There is, moreover, considerable scope to further strengthen Africa’s engagement with its southern trade partners in ways that promote structural reform while avoiding the so-called “primary commodity trap” or a “race to the bottom” by countries seeking to attract foreign investment.

Dr. Nkosana Moyo, Founder and Executive Chair, Mandela Institute for Development Studies, South Africa, said, “We have to look within and act together. It is true that economic indicators show us that Africa is rising but it would be good to find correlation between indicators and activities. I believe, the world is excited about us because we have resources and we have our markets.” He cautioned, “But we should not become a dumping ground for other peoples’ goods”

Prof. Adebayo Olukoshi, Director of IDEP, seconded Dr Moyo’s sentiments, “For too long our continent has been engaged in partnerships that are unfavourable to us. It’s true that things are changing but we need to understand and learn to partner in such a manner that we do not lose out in our deals. I strongly believe that no one is going to come to Africa to develop us. We have to do it for ourselves.”

On a positive note, Symerre Grey Johnson, NEPAD, pointed out that African countries were already coming together to form positive partnerships as in the case of Agricultural trust funds wherein the main contributions have come from Angola and Equatorial Guinea.”

Speakers agreed that intra-trade among African countries is very low. Last year, it stood at 7 per cent. The level of intra-trade among African countries compares unfavorably with other regions of the world. Intra-trade among the EU-27 is around 70 per cent, 52 per cent for Asian countries, 50 per cent for North American countries and 26 per cent for South American countries.

Ebong-Harstrup stressed that for a strong foundation in partnerships it is essential to have constructive partnerships within the continent. She said, “We can’t grow without trade between African countries? Why didn’t the three African countries got together to deal with Ebola? We need to finance our development without looking to the North.”

The ECA advises that new partnerships must also take into account the increasing complexity of development finance. New actors have emerged, including development partners from the global South and private philanthropic foundations, and innovative assistance modalities. While traditional donors still tend to allocate most of their aid budgets to initiatives promoting social development, southern development partners tend to focus on infrastructure projects and productive sectors.

Source: African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of UNECA.

Africa’s future trade relations link to the Global South

Taxes, not Aid: Africa Must Generate Resources

Africa is growing at a steady rate and is on the path to sustainable long-term growth, opening up a number of investment opportunities. In fact, one-third of Africa’s countries have GDP growth rates of more than 6%. However, as discussed at the ECA’s Ninth African Development Forum, the resources required for Africa’s sustainable development will not come from aid. Africa must look within, generating financial resources from its own economies.

Speakers agreed that a major impediment to domestic resource mobilisation is the existence of thousands of African SMEs which continue to operate within the informal sector and are not paying taxes. The informal economy accounts for 20 to 40 per cent of the countries’ wealth and about 70 per cent of the African population works in the informal sector. Therefore, the formalisation of the informal sector is crucial for domestic resource mobilisation.

Kaba Nialé, Minister of Economy and Finance, Côte d’Ivoire, said, “Domestic resource mobilisation is important to sustain the current economic growth of the African continent.” She agreed that many African countries have recognised that they need to improve the capacity to generate revenue internally in order to have a sustainable economic growth.

“It is well known that African governments have a weak capacity to collect taxes. Although tax revenues are the largest source of domestic resources, many African countries have a tax-to-GDP ratio below 10 per cent,” she pointed out.

It was noted that though the African continent excessively relies on export of natural resources, they only receive 3 to 5 % of natural resources revenues. Subsequently, over the last decade, more than $ 500 billion has been lost through capital flight. Experts agreed that this is the result of weak regulatory regimes, but also of the investors’ perception that there are limited options in those countries.

Machiko Nissanke, Professor of Economics, SOAS, and Aeneas Chapinga Chuma, Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Africa, ILO, underscored, what is missing is not liquidity but financial intermediaries to channel this capital into productive investment.

Remittance flows in African countries

Experts also looked into ways to mobilise funds and discussed remittances. Dr Esman M. Nyamongo, Central Bank of Kenya, said, “Remittance, in particular in the last two decades, has overtaken traditional sources of external flows. Additionally, studies exploring the impact of remittance flow in the region have unearthed a number of positive outcomes. For instance, the majority of remittance money is channelled into the public sector departments such as education and health.

Furthermore, due to the sheer magnitude of these flows, remittance can even support a country’s exchange rate and even introduce macro-economic stability.

Remittance flows in African countries average around 3-5% of their GDP, however this figure is considerably higher in Lesotho where it constitutes 25% of the nation’s GDP. The remittance flows are having a considerably impact on the bank sector and stock market development. Faiza Feki, Central Bank of Tunisia, highlighted, “Some 88% of Tunisia’s funds are transfers from Europe and 9% are from the Arab countries.”

Undeniably, remittance flows are making a fundamental impact on African countries’ economic eco-system. The question that now emerges: How can governments convert short-term remittance flows into long-term investments? Some believe the solution lies with diaspora bonds. These bonds are designed specifically to target the diaspora and entice them into funding governmental projects. Essentially, these bonds are good conduits for converting remittance flows into long-term investments.

The World Bank estimates that Africa’s diaspora remittances soared to $40bn in 2012 and they have the potential to grow to $200bn over the next decade. Added to this is the potential that can be realised by addressing the losses to the continent through illicit financial flows.

Aly Abou-Sabaa, Vice-President in charge of Agriculture, Human Development and Governance, African Development Bank, pointed out that tax collection in Africa over the last ten years has significantly improved, and that there are very encouraging examples of African countries that successfully took steps to bring in reforms to increase internal capacity for resource collection.

Source: Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of UNECA.

Taxes, not Aid: Africa Must Generate Resources