Basel Conference Addresses Electronic Wastes Challenge

Nairobi Conference on Basel Convention to Address the Growing Challenge of Electronic Wastes

Nairobi, 27 November 2006 – Some 120 governments will meet at the United Nations Office in Nairobi from 27 November to 1 December to seek solutions to the world’s rising tide of hazardous wastes.

“As the recent tragedy in Côte d’Ivoire reminds us, hazardous wastes continue to pose serious risks for human health and the environment,” said Executive Director Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under whose auspices the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted in 1989.

“Like the climate change treaties, the Basel Convention promotes clean technologies and processes that minimize unwanted by-products. It provides the tools and incentives we need to both empower and motivate the producers and consumers of goods that generate hazardous wastes to pursue innovative solutions. In this way the Convention also advances sustainable development and the UN’s Millennium Development Goals,” he said.

On Thursday the Nairobi conference will convene a high-level “World Forum on E-Wastes”. The Forum will confront the growing reality that, in addition to its many benefits, the global consumer goods revolution is generating massive quantities of end-of-life computers and other obsolete electronic equipment.

Some 20 to 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste are generated worldwide every year, comprising more than 5% of all municipal solid waste. When the millions of computers purchased around the world every year (183 million in 2004) become obsolete they leave behind lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous wastes. In the US alone, some 14 to 20 million PCs are thrown out every year. In the EU the volume of e-waste is expected to increase by 3 to 5 per cent a year. Developing countries are expected to triple their output of e-waste by 2010.

Similarly, the use and disposal of mobile phones – which like PCs barely existed 20 years ago – is increasing dramatically. By 2008 the number of cell phone users around the world is projected to reach some two billion. Leading cell phone manufacturers are collaborating through the Basel Convention’s Mobil Phone Partnership Initiative to find better ways to reduce and manage this growing waste stream.

Any lessons learned from efforts to improve the management of e-wastes could also be applied to other obsolete consumer goods and end-of-life equipment, such as batteries, automobiles and ships. The key to success will be the creation of a global framework for managing wastes that renders waste flows transparent, predictable and traceable, while reflecting the specific attributes of each waste stream.

“Because you can only manage what you can measure, we need to shine a brighter light on hazardous wastes – on where they come from, and on where they end up. More and better information about waste will also help us to tackle the growing challenge of illegal trade,” said Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto, the Convention’s Executive Secretary.

The dumping of hazardous wastes last August in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and the resulting deaths and illnesses, has revived concern about the continuing problem of illegal trade. A 2005 report by the European Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL) indicates that illegal trade is on the rise. A joint enforcement operation carried out in 17 European seaports examined 3,000 shipping documents and physically inspected 258 cargo holds. Of these, 140 were waste shipments, of which 68 – or some 48% – turned out to be illegal.

With some 94% of the materials extracted for manufacturing durable products becoming waste before the product is manufactured, reducing waste at source can clearly promote economic and industrial competitiveness. The many other social and economic benefits of sound waste management include job creation, skills development and reduced clean-up and public health costs.

Governments are working through the Basel Convention to develop partnerships with industry, the public sector and civil society aimed at reducing hazardous wastes at source and promoting recycling and re-use. They are also taking advantage of the Convention’s expanding series of technical guidelines for the environmentally sound management of specific kinds of wastes.

The Nairobi meeting will consider adopting three new sets of such guidelines for the environmentally sound management of certain persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Many of these pollutants are amongst the most hazardous substances known to humanity. Guidelines on POPs wastes and on PCBs were finalized in 2004. The new guidelines focus specifically on DDT, on other obsolete pesticides, and on dioxins and furans.

Another agenda item concerns the dismantling of obsolete ships. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), which has launched negotiations on a legally binding agreement that would clarify the legal requirements for scrapping obsolete ships. However, governments recognize that the Basel Convention also has a clear role to play in this issue.

The Basel Convention draws on the principles of the “environmentally sound management” of wastes and the “integrated life-cycle approach” to industrial production. It sets out incentives and tools for minimizing the generation of wastes, treating wastes as near as possible to where they were generated, and minimizing international movements of hazardous wastes. Reducing wastes at source will reduce the financial incentives that drive the illegal dumping that inspired the Convention’s adoption 17 years ago.

Note to journalists: The Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention will be held at UNEP headquarters in Gigiri, Nairobi from 27 November to 1 December 2006. For more information, see www.basel.int and Vital Waste Graphics URL or contact conference press officer Michael Williams at +41-22-917-8242/8196/8244, +41-79-409-1528 (cell) or michael.williams@unep.ch; UNEP Spokesman Nick Nuttall at +254-207-623084, +254-733-632755 (cell) or nick.nuttall@unep.org; or Elisabeth Waechter at +254-207-623088 or elisabeth.waechter@unep.org.


 

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