UN publishes first regional e-scrap report for Commonwealth of Independent States and Georgia

E-scrap in Eastern Europe/Caucasus/Central Asia jumps 50% in a decade; Just 3.2% collected, treated

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November 24 2021
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e waste monitor

Electronic waste generated in the Commonwealth of Independent States and Georgia rose by 50 percent between 2010 and 2019, roughly the world average, but overall just 3.2 percent was collected and safely managed, well below the 17.4 percent average worldwide, according to the UN’s first report dedicated to the e-scrap issue in the 12 former Soviet Union countries. 

The regional e-scrap total jumped from 1.7 Mt to 2.5 Mt (an average 8.7 kg per citizen), with Russia generating the most e-scrap in both absolute and per inhabitant terms. 

The findings have been published in the first “Regional E-waste Monitor, CIS + Georgia,” produced by the Sustainable Cycles (SCYCLE) Programme, co-hosted by the UN University (UNU) and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), in partnership with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to the study, the region’s e-scrap spans a variety of products, but three categories dominate: temperature exchange equipment (e.g., heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration units), and large equipment (e.g., washing machines or ovens) and small equipment (e.g., kitchen equipment or vacuum cleaners) account for 77 percent. 

The annual growth rate in the region has slowed in nearly all categories but remains positive. Only screens and monitors, and small IT equipment, show negative growth rates, as per the report. 

“E-waste constitutes one of the fastest growing waste streams in today’s global environment and poses a significant threat to both health and sustainable development,” said Ruediger Kuehr, Director of the Sustainable Cycles Programme (SCYCLE). “However, few countries collect internationally comparable e-waste statistics, and many countries lack the capacity to collect e-waste data at both the regional and national level. We need this data to track changes over time, establish national and international policies, limit e-waste generation, prevent illegal dumping, and promote recycling.”

“This Regional E-waste Monitor for the CIS and Georgia is the first of its kind, reviewing e-waste statistics, legislation, and management, created with the aim of enhancing understanding and interpretation of the problem and facilitating the environmentally sound management of e-waste,” he noted. “Such a summary allows for international comparisons and contributes to the development of more effective regional e-waste management systems.”

10 tonnes of gold

Co-author Kees Balde of the United Nations University underlined that managing e-scrap could be an economic opportunity in the region by creating enterprises and thus jobs in the recycling sector. E-scrap generated in the CIS and Georgia in 2019 alone contained 10 tonnes of gold, half a tonne of rare earth metals, 1 million tonnes of iron, 85,000 tonnes of copper, 136,000 tonnes of aluminum, and 700 tonnes of cobalt – representing a total value of US $2.6 billion in secondary raw materials. 

Meanwhile, hazardous substances in the region’s 2019 e-scrap included at least 2.4 tonnes of mercury, 1.1 tonnes of cadmium, 8,100 tonnes of lead, and 4,000 tonnes of brominated flame retardants, threats to human and environmental health.

“E-waste collection rates need to increase across countries in the region, just as they need to increase elsewhere across the world,” said Dr. Balde. “This improvement can be realised through mandatory handover of e-waste to licenced facilities. Also needed are mandatory reporting obligations for all actors collecting e-waste.”

UBA president Dirk Messner emphasised that “E-waste is one of the most challenging waste streams all over the world. The amount of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market is rising constantly and thus e-waste does. In Germany we, too, are facing the challenge to boost our collection rates to treat e-waste in the proper way. Policy makers worldwide need a comprehensive analysis of the e-waste situation – both regionally and on a national level. We are happy that through the Advisory Assistance Programme (APP) we have supported this important project. It has been a fruitful exchange and knowledge transfer for both sides.”

Other key findings in the report:

  • Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) placed on the market in the region increased by 10% — from 2.9 Mt (10.4 kg/inh) in 2010 to 3.2 Mt (11.0 kg/inh) in 2019. 
  • The CIS+ countries collected and managed 79 kt (0.3 kg/inh) of e-scrap in 2019 - 3.2% of the e-waste generated -- and most of the rest ends up in landfills, with informal recyclers cherry picking some valuable components. 
  • Belarus and Russia have large domestic EEE production industries; the other countries mostly import the EEE placed on the market. 
  • E-scrap collection for environmentally sound management takes place in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. 
  • Belarus has the highest e-scrap collection per inhabitant and a collection rate: 33.6% (2.7 kg/inh), followed by Kazakhstan (8.8%; 0.6 kg/inh). 
  • Some countries (e.g., Georgia, Kyrgyzstan) have no e-scrap collection due to a lack of organised, separate collection infrastructure for e-waste (and/or lack official data). 
  • All 12 countries in the region have well-developed legal and regulatory waste management frameworks, but 6 have no specific legislation nor Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) systems 
  • Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have adopted e-scrap-specific legislation or regulation
  • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia regulate e-scrap through bylaws in national legislation (i.e., specifically mentioning e-waste in their general waste law)
  • Armenia and Ukraine are drafting Extended Producer Responsibility systems for e-scrap, and Uzbekistan has drafted e-scrap legislation
  • In most countries, the Ministry of Environment is the responsible government entity. Municipalities and other waste management authorities, as well as state-owned private companies, collect e-scrap for further management, mostly landfilling
  • Producers/importers also collect e-scrap under the EPR, but informal operators also exist in the region and focus on valuable e-scrap fractions.

The report notes several initiatives and campaign strategies created in the region to create awareness of e-scrap collection and recycling with active participation from both the public and private sectors. In some of the 12 countries, the projects and initiatives are conceived and driven by NGOs’ foreign donor funds. These projects that were mapped do not comprise a complete overview in the region, but nonetheless focus on:

  • Establishing legal measures
  • National studies to map the e-scrap situation
  • Initiatives to increase e-scrap collection points
  • Initiatives to export e-scrap for environmentally sound management
  • Awareness raising campaigns

The report calls on the 12 countries in the region to: 

  • Introduce and enforce a robust legal and policy framework focused on environmentally sound management of e-scrap, or 
  • Monitor and reinforce existing systems to make them more efficient and effective

Also called for:

  • Adequate financing of the systems, monitoring, and cooperation of all stakeholders – essential for ensuring that the policies setup for e-scrap management is sustained.
  • Strengthened transnational cooperation to reduce the burden of large investments 

The report concludes with detailed individual country profiles and elaborates on seven recommendations, headlined: Prevent more; Be more aware; Collect more; Pollute less; Pay adequately; Work more safely, and Train more.