Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.
As Aida mentioned in an earlier post, a lack of a global standard for e-waste is one of the biggest problems we, in the e-waste industry, have to deal with. Inconsistencies between states, countries, and continents not only make it hard on the manufacturers but also on the well-intentioned collectors.
Sunil Herat, a senior lecturer in waste management at Griffith University in Australia, addressed this problem in a recent paper titled International regulations and treaties on electronic waste (e-waste). Herat has given an overview of the different policies in different regions. This post will be a summary and commentary of that document.
Herat breaks the paper down according to region and initially identifies whether that region has adopted the Producer Responsibility policies or the Advanced Recycling Fee (ARF). Each policy has its advantages. The Producer Responsibility approach relies mostly on the commitment of the manufacturers to contribute to the collection of e-waste. The ARF places an additional fee to the consumer at the purchase of an electronic product. This fee goes towards programs that help collect and responsibly dispose of the product.
There are obvious benefits to each policy, but in my opinion, the Producer Responsibility has the added effect of encouraging manufacturers to design better products in terms of the end of their life so that the producer won’t have as much difficulty dealing with disposal methods. Although, when discussing China’s policies, Herat says that “little evidence was found that these directives have effectively driven China’s manufacturers towards eco-design practices.” Perhaps that will change in the long run.
Most places have adopted the Producer Responsibility policy. For instance, the European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive has the Producer Responsibility basic principle as the basis behind their e-waste collection process. The majority of states in the U.S. that have regulations against the disposal of e-waste also adopt the producer responsibility policy. California is the only state in the U.S. that uses ARF but there are other countries like Canada and South Africa that have also adopted this method.
Next, Herat identifies problems with some country’s e-waste regulations. For instance, every country in the European Union (EU) has adopted the WEEE directive but not every country in the EU has the same restrictions within this method. Herat realizes that this can place a burden on companies trying to comply with these regulations and has asserted that, “harmonization of the law among the EU member countries cannot be guaranteed.”
The paper also has a short overview of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive, which is “a ban on the use of certain substances in EEE,” (electrical and electronic equipment) in the EU and other countries adopting WEEE. RoHS lists lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, PBB and PBDE as substances of immediate concern and severely limits the amount of use of these materials in products that are sold in the EU. Herat identifies some exemptions to this directive and suggests that there might be too much emphasis on plastics and not enough on avoiding “the loss of precious metal values,” but he also recognizes the positive impact it has had on influencing countries like China and Korea to adopt similar directives.
When discussing each country, Herat begins by identifying the prevalence of the issue, for instance, India generates 146,000-330,000 tons of e-waste per year and rising. Herat then explains what is being done about this issue in that country. So for India, Herat says that current e-waste legislation is in the development phase. Other places, like Korea, have had a “waste deposit-refund system” but then switched to a producer responsibility method.
Finally, it would not be a conversation about international e-waste without the mention of the Basel Convention. This is an international treaty that prohibits the exchange of hazardous and toxic waste from nation to nation. The U.S. is one of the few countries that have not signed this treaty. Herat gives the full explanation of this agreement in his paper.
No mater the system adopted or the geological location, the same problems arise: how do we efficiently and responsibly get rid of e-waste? Herat concludes that being able to come up with a unified system for collection could be a big help in resolving a lot of the issues having to do with e-waste.
I suggest that you read International regulations and treaties on electronic waste (e-waste) and consider for yourself the differing international policies on e-waste. Unfortunately, Herat’s document is not easily accessible due to copyright reasons. It was published in Vol. 1 Number 4 edition of International Journal of Environmental Engineering in 2009. I was able to obtain a copy by going through my library.
Herat, Sunil. “International regulations and treaties on electronic waste (e-waste).” International Journal of Environmental Engineering 1.4 (2009): 335-51. Print.