Researchers call for private sector to tackle e-waste

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An international team of experts have called for global cooperation to reform the e-waste recycling industry. Their paper, released today, highlights the harm it poses to both human health and the environment.

E-waste, or electronic waste, includes items such as old mobile phones, computers, and circuit boards. It often proves toxic, and is growing worldwide at an alarming rate, with almost 45m metric tonnes recorded in 2016.

The paper discusses the huge volumes of e-waste that are shipped around the world illegally or sent for processing to countries with underdeveloped and unsafe recycling capabilities.

The collaborative study, which involves Professor Lenny Koh from the University of Sheffield’s Management School and a team of researchers from the USA and China, is published in Nature Electronics.

Professor Koh, who is the Director for the Centre of Energy, Environment and Sustainability, and Director of the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre, said: “E-waste can be turned into ‘gold’ and can contribute to the circular economy if it is handled effectively, efficiently and sustainably, thereby avoiding negative impacts on health and the environment.”

Current preventative measures such as the United Nations’ Basel Convention are unable to cope with the rapidly increasing quantity of hazardous waste.

The researchers are calling for global engagement from the private sector to tackle e-waste, urging the sharing of technologies and the improvement of work safety and labour practices. They also suggest financial incentives for proper recycling of e-waste, pointing to Indian policies as an example of successful incentivisation of sustainable practices.

The paper ‘Circular economy and electronic waste’ is published in Nature Electronics.

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