E-Waste Recycling

Coping with the huge quantities of toxic electronic waste is one of the great challenges of our time. Every year, around 22 kg of electronic waste per person is generated in Switzerland: in 2016, that was around 184,000 tonnes, and the number is increasing, also because of mobile devices. As e-waste producers, the Swiss rank eighth in the world.

Despite promising technical solutions, the majority of electronic scrap worldwide is currently not recycled. All too often, attempts are made to ‘solve’ the problem by relocating to countries with low environmental standards. But the electronic waste production effectively already starts during the raw material extraction and the production of the devices.

Since the definition ‘Green Criminology’ coined by Michael J. Lynch appeared, this discussion has gained in intensity: activists call out as criminal those who pollute the earth through production and dumping of dangerous equipment and materials, thus depriving others of their livelihoods. Such crimes must be brought to trial, and the manufacturers should also be held accountable.

Sources: Guidance Immark Regensdorf 11.5.15; Swico Technical Report 2017; Global e-Waste Monitor 2017; Nancy Frank, Michael J. Lynch. Corporate Crime, Corporate Violence. Harrow & Heston 1992.

Basel Convention

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal entered into force in 1989. It is an environmental agreement that regulates the export of hazardous waste.
According to the Basel Convention, waste such as e-waste can only be shipped from countries of the ‘Global North’ to countries of the ‘Global South’ and vice versa, if they are both signatories to the agreement. Thus, the rules of the convention apply, that means that there must be state-of- the-art recycling facilities. The shipment of waste requires the consent of the importing and exporting countries as well as all transit countries. This consent and processing happens through a notification procedure.
Put briefly, the Basel Convention bans the export of e-waste to countries of the ‘Global South’.
Switzerland signed the agreement in 1990. Around 170 states are members, including China.
The US, which according to Wikipedia exports 80% of its hazardous waste abroad, has never ratified it; thus such regulations do not apply in the US.

Source: Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal; telephone conversation with Rolf Widmer, Empa St. Gallen (6.3.2017).

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