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E-waste management

Gestión de los residuos electrónicos

E-waste management offers an opportunity behind sustainability.

Carolina Sosa

It is said that what is not measured cannot be controlled, which is why, when it comes to electronic waste, some organizations have dedicated themselves to measuring the impact that each region has in terms of consumption, disposal and recycling and the results are not encouraging:

The Regional Monitoring for E-Waste report carried out by the United Nations University and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, carried out in 13 Latin American countries, showed that between 2010 and 2019, the generation and consumption of electronic devices in Latin America increased by 49%, bringing us closer to the world average in terms of purchase and acquisition of this equipment.

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The consumption of 206 million people in these 13 countries in 2019 alone generated 1.3 million tons of waste. However, while the global e-waste collection rate reached 17.4%, that of Latin America stood at 2.7%.

There are no records about what happens to the remaining 97.3% of the disused equipment, which is full of valuable materials such as copper (from which we have already extracted 75% of the world's reserves), silver, plastic or lithium that can be integrated back into production systems, but which are also full of polluting chemicals such as mercury. cadmium, brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that need special disposal and handling, but actually end up in landfills near water sources or fields, generating a direct impact on nature and human health.

The improper management of electronic equipment not only affects nature and people, it also contributes to global warming to the extent that they release greenhouse gases, but also, because by not being recycled, the extraction of new resources or raw materials is promoted with the aim of generating new devices. which generates more impact and more gases.

These recoverable materials from electronic waste could generate profits of up to $1.7 billion annually in the region. The waste analyzed in Latin America during 2019 contained 7,000 kilos of gold and 310 kilos of rare metals, among others. This money would be very useful to the countries and also to the communities that are dedicated to legal and organized recycling, which are generally vulnerable communities, but since they are not formally recycled, we do not know where this equipment will end up.

Our sector has the opportunity to start developing dynamics in which the environment and people become the focus: thinking about responsible production and consumption SDG #12, developing sustainable cities and communities SDG #11 and generating climate action SDG #13, does not sound crazy if what we want is to have a market and a business that continues to be in force in the medium and long term.

Gestión de los residuos electrónicosThere are opportunities: consumers are opting for suppliers that are aligned with their policies and with their sustainability policies, prioritizing the hiring of companies that are already working on the issue and that can offer them serious and well-built plans to minimize the impact of each project. For the younger generations, caring for the planet is relevant and these will be the future technology or purchasing managers of many companies in a couple of years. Are we preparing to serve these customers? Or are we going to let others take the lead?

The legislation for the management of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) is already starting to change: In Colombia, resolution 9851 says that producers must comply with a quota of recycled equipment each year, what we do not know is that within the category of "producers" are also included importers of technology. But this does not happen only in Colombia, the regulatory framework on electronic recycling is currently being built for 13 countries in Latin America with UNIDO supporting local governments, how informed are we about the legislation we have to comply with for each country?

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As a sector there is a lot we can work on: having programs that favor not only recycling but also reuse that seeks to extend the useful life of equipment and promote repair are some of the initiatives that SAVe* is proposing to be an increasingly responsible sector focused on sustainability but at the same time continue to be profitable and productive.

Technology is not going to disappear, in fact, with the pandemic we realized that technology has many benefits, technology helped us stay informed and connected, it allowed us to continue working and being productive, it allowed us to study, but above all it allowed us to feel close and accompanied, the question now is how, hand in hand with technology, Can we contribute to having a better planet?

They say that behind every crisis there is a hidden opportunity. What is ours?

*Based on BBVA's article Latin America's Challenge to Gain in Sustainability: Better Manage Its E-Waste.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Editor
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2009), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de IntegraTec y LiveTec.

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