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United Nations: New Agreement on Electronic Waste

(Mar. 21, 2012) A new agreement signed by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Secretariat of the Basel Convention (SBC) was announced on March 12, 2012. (Press Release, ITU, UN Systems Collaborate on Electronic Waste Disposal (Mar. 12, 2012).) It is designed to reduce the negative environmental impact of electronic waste through the proper collection and recycling of hazardous materials contained in that waste. The toxic components are considered a danger to human health as well as to the environment in general. The new pact calls on the ITU and the SBC to cooperate by sharing information and working together to set standards and increase awareness globally of how electronic waste should be managed. (New UN Agreement Seeks to Protect Environment from Hazardous Electronic Waste, UN NEWS CENTRE (Mar. 13, 2012).)

According to Hamadoun Touré, the Secretary-General of the ITU, there is already

significant progress in improving … environmental performance and reducing e-waste through improved best practices and standards. … The collaboration with the Secretariat of the Basel Convention will allow the global community to address this ever-increasing problem through a holistic approach, involving the recycling industry as well as environmental policy makers. (Id.)

According to its website, the Basel Convention is designed to control international movement and disposal of hazardous wastes. It was adopted on March 22, 1989. (Overview, Basel Convention website (last visited Mar. 19, 2012).)

According to the ITU, only 13% of electronic waste is currently recycled, and in some cases recycling is done without proper safety procedures. The amount of electronic waste is expected to greatly increase in coming years, the ITU projects. (New UN Agreement Seeks to Protect Environment from Hazardous Electronic Waste, supra.)

Jim Willis of the SBC noted that electronic equipment

has to be dealt with in view of its entire life-cycle, and this includes the time when the equipment comes to its end-of-life and becomes e-waste. … Collaboration between ITU and SBC will further our shared objectives in support of sustainable development that essentially includes environmentally sound management of waste. (Id.)

A few days after the announcement of the cooperation agreement, the SBC and the United Nations Environmental Program helped organize a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on the subject of electrical and electronic waste. Eighteen African countries participated, along with nongovernmental organizations, academics, and representatives of companies in the electronics business. As a result, a “Call to Action” was adopted that includes priorities for the improvement of management of electronic waste in a way that is environmentally sound, including steps on the collection, recycling, transportation, storage, and disposal of the hazardous waste. (UN-Backed Initiative to Address Electronic Waste Problem in Africa Adopted, UN NEWS CENTRE (Mar. 16, 2012).)