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ILO Presents New Circular Vision for Electronics

January 28, 2019

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.

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.

“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.

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