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Green economy

50 million tonnes of potentially job creating e-waste discarded annually

Seven UN entities, including the ILO, supported by the World Economic Forum and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) call for a reboot of the current electronics system.

Press release | 25 January 2019
DAVOS, Switzerland (ILO News) – Each year, close to 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste (e-waste) are discarded – the weight of more than all commercial airliners ever made. In terms of material value, this is worth 62.5 billion dollars – more than the GDP of most countries.

Less than 20 per cent is recycled formally. Instead, millions of women and men worldwide (over 600,000 in China alone) work informally to collect, repair, refurbish, dismantle, recycle and dispose of e-waste, much of it done in working conditions harmful to both health and the environment.

© Fairphone
These are the findings of a new report published by a coalition of seven UN entities – including the International Labour Organization – supported by the World Economic Forum and the WBCSD. The report concludes that it is time to “re-consider e-waste, re-evaluate the electronics industry and reboot the system for the benefit of industry, consumers, workers, health of humankind and the environment.”

The report, A New Circular Vision for Electronics – Time for a Global Reboot, launched in Davos on 24 January, says better product tracking, manufacturer or retailer take-back programmes, new technologies and new business models such as leasing and rental, can support the gradual “dematerialization” of the electronics industry.

We need better e-waste strategies and green standards ... to make the circular economy work for both people and planet."

Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General
“Thousands of tonnes of e-waste are disposed of by the world’s poorest workers in the worst of conditions, putting their health and lives at risk. We need better e-waste strategies and green standards as well as closer collaboration between governments, employers and unions to make the circular economy work for both people and planet,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

The report also notes that material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains will all be essential for future production. In addition, if the electronics sector is supported with the right policy mix and managed in the right way, it could lead to the creation of millions of decent jobs worldwide.

It also calls for collaboration with multinationals, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurs, academia, trade unions, civil society and employers’– associations to create a circular economy for electronics where waste is designed out, the environmental impact is reduced and decent work is created for millions.

The new report supports the work of the E-waste Coalition, which includes the:
  • International Labour Organization (ILO);
  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU);
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment);
  • United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO);
  • United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR);
  • United Nations University (UNU), and
  • Secretariats of the Basel and Stockholm conventions.
The Coalition is supported by the WBCSD and the World Economic Forum and coordinated by the Secretariat of the UN Environment Management Group. Read the full press release here.

Decent work in the management of e-waste is the topic of the Global Dialogue Forum that the ILO will organize for representatives of governments, employers’ associations and trade unions in Geneva, Switzerland, from 9 to 11 April 2019.