Sound Management of Electronic Wastes in North America

Status: Completed
Operational Plan: 2011-2012

Electronic devices—TVs, smart phones, and computers—are integrated into modern life. They are more affordable than ever but they also become obsolete very rapidly. When this happens, most of them are discarded, stored, or shipped abroad, where recycling sometimes may not occur in environmentally sound ways. Electronic devices contain approximately 40 to 60 compounds and metals that, if managed inappropriately, can pose significant risks to our health and the environment due to leaching of metals, such as lead, mercury or cadmium, or exposure to potentially hazardous compounds, such as brominated flame retardants.

The environmentally sound management of e-waste is an issue of concern in North America, given the rapidly growing number of electronic devices being discarded each year that contain hazardous materials and substances. For this reason, Canada, Mexico and the United States have implemented a project to describe the transboundary movements, or flows, of used and end-of-life computers, monitors, and other electronic devices in North America. The project will quantify and characterize imports and exports of these used electronics, providing decision- makers with information they can use to develop and implement policies and strategies that will better address this problem on a North American scale.

A second component of the project seeks to enhance the capability of small and medium-size enterprises in the refurbishing and recycling of e-waste to implement environmentally sound management practices. The project will disseminate relevant information on sound management of hazardous substances and the recovery of precious metals and provide training tools for small businesses to aid them in supporting green jobs and improving the occupational health and safety of their workers.

Accomplishments

In February 2011, the CEC organized the first workshop on the environmentally sound management of e-waste, in Guadalajara, Mexico. At this meeting, experts from the three countries recommended strategies tailored to small and medium-size enterprises. The workshop showcased the wealth of knowledge and technical expertise provided by experts as well as the thoughtful questions of participants. See www.cec.org/ ewaste2011 for information on this and other e-waste meetings and resources. In June 2011, the CEC Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) organized a workshop to discuss the rapidly growing amount of electronic waste in North America and ways in which Canada, Mexico and the United States can jointly promote environmentally sound management of e-waste through product design, recycling, compliance and enforcement cooperation. Forum results helped JPAC in its consideration of recommendations to the CEC Council. These recommendations are included in Advice 11-03 to Council.