ITI is back in Geneva this week to participate in the 11th Conference of the Parties (COP-11) of the Basel Convention -- an international treaty designed to control international shipments of hazardous waste. Governments, civil society, and the private sector are continuing our multi-year effort to construct international guidelines to stop the illegal flow of electronic waste to facilities in the developing world that lack the capacity to properly and safely manage them.
The tech sector strongly backs tough protections to prevent products at the end of their lives from being dumped in places without the facilities or specialization to handle them. We have actively engaged in this initiative for years, and will continue to advocate for approaches that safeguard the environment.
Part of that effort is ensuring that second-generation products can be repaired and refurbished by well-trained technicians at environmentally sound, professionally managed facilities. Electronics companies operate these facilities around the world. We want to ensure that the Basel Convention recommendations don’t have unintended consequences of preventing companies from fixing or refitting products that still have useful life in them. We need to be able to move valuable used products across borders to qualified regional repair and refurbishment centers so these devices can be returned to the marketplace.
These legitimate practices are completely in keeping with widely endorsed sustainability principles, which acknowledge that repairing and reusing products makes the most of the resources and energy used to manufacture them. In addition, repairing and reusing valuable equipment provides consumers in the developing world with access to technologies, such as computers, cell phones, and medical equipment, at reasonable cost.
The guidelines currently under consideration underscore the importance of allowing legitimate reuse, even as governments rightly move to reduce the mismanagement of e-waste. The guidelines state:
|Direct reuse or reuse after repair or refurbishment can contribute to sustainable development. Reuse extends the life of equipment, which reduces the environmental footprint of the resource-intensive production processes of the equipment. It may also provide access to such equipment for groups in society that otherwise would not have access to it due to reduced costs of second-hand equipment.|
ITI is working with all stakeholders -- from governments to NGOs -- to craft careful solutions that will provide necessary assurances to deter bad actors from moving electronic waste, while avoiding restrictions that could prevent legitimate and accepted reuse activities. We want to avoid requirements that could unintentionally prevent a customer from sending a product back to the manufacturer for repair; a lessee from returning used computers and servers to the lessor; a manufacturer from conducting important diagnostic work on a piece of failed equipment; or, a company from shipping a used part to a foreign market to fix sophisticated medical equipment or a computer server.
ITI strongly supports strict controls on the movement of waste electronics, but adopting limits on legitimate shipments for repair and reuse will produce unacceptable environmental, economic, and social impacts. If valuable used products cannot move to environmentally sound regional assessment and repair facilities for eventual return to commerce, we expect that there will be an increase in:
- E-waste generation rates, as many used products will not be repaired and reused but will instead be prematurely sent for materials recovery;
- Improper e-waste disposal, as products may be locked within countries that lack environmentally sound management facilities; and,
- Raw materials extraction, processing, and carbon emissions associated with the manufacture of new products to replace those that can no longer be maintained or repaired.
Unfortunately, even before the Geneva negotiations started this week, we’ve seen a great deal of misinformation put forward, including the inflammatory claim that the tech sector is seeking to create a system for “international toxic waste dumping.” That is an irresponsible statement without any basis in fact. ITI is urging those involved in the Geneva talks to continue working toward the development of international guidelines to ensure the environmentally sound management of old electronics products, and many companies are partnering with governments on new take-back initiatives in countries across the globe.
ITI is also working to build a common understanding among governments that documented movements of used equipment for repair and reuse has legitimate value to the economy and environment alike. (See our full set of recommendations to the Basel convention, put forward in December 2012.)
We must protect the environment. And part of that mission is ensuring that we find smart new ways to recycle and reuse old tech products. We are willing and eager to work with governments and stakeholders alike to focus on proper regulation and sustainable solutions to the e-waste challenge.