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Electronics Production | March 07, 2007

Worldwide co-op over E-Waste

UN, industry, others partner to create world standards for e-scrap recycling, harvesting components called Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP).
Major high-tech manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Dell, Ericsson, Philips and Cisco Systems, join UN, governmental, NGO and academic institutions, along with recycling / refurbishing companies as charter members of the initiative, officially launched March 7.

Valuable resources in every scrapped product with a battery or plug — computers, TVs, radios, wired and wireless phones, MP3 players, navigation-systems, microwave ovens, coffee makers, toasters, hair-dryers, to name but a few — are being trashed in rising volumes worldwide.

Worse, items charitably sent to developing countries for re-use often ultimately remain unused for a host of reasons, or are shipped by unscrupulous recyclers for illegal disposal. And, too often, e-scrap in developing countries is incinerated, not only wasting needed resources but adding toxic chemicals to the environment, both local and global.

In addition to well-known precious metals such as gold, palladium and silver, unique and indispensable metals have become increasingly important in electronics. Among them: Indium, a by-product of zinc mining used in more than 1 billion products per year, including flat-screen monitors and mobile phones.

In the last five years, indium's price has increased six-fold, making it more expensive than silver. Though known mine reserves are limited, indium recycling is so far taking place in only a few plants in Belgium, Japan and the U.S. Japan recovers roughly half its indium needs through recycling.

In many industrializing and developing countries, growing numbers of people earn a living from recycling and salvaging electronic waste. In most cases, though, this is done through so-called “backyard practices," often taking place under the most primitive circumstances, exposing workers to extensive health dangers.

A global guide to dismantling e-scrap and maximizing the recovery and controlling recovered substances is a major StEP objective. A large-scale project to help e.g. China safely dismantle and dispose of its domestic e-scrap is also in the works. Maximizing resource re-utilization will help meet soaring demand in that country and India for increasingly scarce elements.

Inter-related StEP task forces will help shape government policies worldwide and address issues related to re-design and product life expectancy, re-use and re-cycling, and help build relevant capacity in developing nations.

The StEP logo will signal to consumers that e-scrap processes associated with a company's products conform to agreed international standards and guidelines.

Click here to read the whole story

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