As the world focuses on the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this week, we thought we would repost a report we did back 2013 about our trip to the Rio+20 UN conference and the efforts to better address e-waste management in Brazil.
E-waste Management: Lessons From Brazil
Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country with a rapidly growing economy. The country recently hosted the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20), the largest ever gathering for discussions on climate change. We had the opportunity to attend Rio+20, and participate in conversations on electronic waste (e-waste). Brazil is way ahead of many other countries on e-waste policy. As a matter of fact, Brazil recently enacted a national policy on e-waste management. Currently, the government and the country’s electronics industries are looking into ways to better implement the law.
Such a policy has possibly come into place now because Brazil, along with Mexico and Senegal, are “generating more e-waste per capita from personal computers than the other surveyed countries,” according to a UNEP report.
According to the World Bank, “Brazilians became the 10th biggest tablet buyers in the world in 2012. In the third quarter alone, sales topped almost 770,000, a 127% increase compared with the same period in 2011. Demand for smart phones is on the rise too: 4.2 million were sold in the country over these three months according to IDC, a global technology consultancy. But, as consumption booms – especially among Brazil’s emerging middle class –, so does the risk that these gadgets are inappropriately disposed when they become worn out or obsolete.”
Following this new policy, Brazil’s ministry of science and technology commissioned a World Bank report last year that shows the impact e-waste could have on the country in the near future and how to deal with the problem effectively.
Some of the recommendations included more “focus for the immediate future on improving the earlier points in the e-waste value chain.” It specifically pointed out that Brazil should follow the model currently used in Taizhou, China, which calls for simple e-waste components to be processed locally, and to send more complex components overseas to a specialized, high-volume processing plant.
The report recommends that the federal government work more closely with regional officials to make sure e-waste policies are enforced universally and to create a certification system to guarantee that e-waste will be properly recycled. One interesting point were the “extended producer responsibilities” which call on the electronics industry to clarify their roles and responsibilities, evaluate what their financial responsibility is throughout the value chain and “to design long-lasting, environmentally friendly and easily recyclable products.”
These are sound recommendations that could help Brazil become a world leader in e-waste management. However, there are still some other questions about going forward with such a policy.
“It’s hard to define a single standard for collection and processing when there is such a broad array of products generating e-waste,” said Ademir Brescansin, socio environmental responsibility manager at ABINEE, Brazil’s Association for Electronic Industry.
“Besides, there are still a few recycling companies, and they are not equally distributed across the territory, which makes transport costs high,” he adds. In spite of the difficulties, Brazilian government and companies established a 2014 deadline to reach an agreement, set up recycling targets, and start taking concrete measures.
Again, it still comes down to the consumers.
“Several global enterprises are already acting up and have their own recycling policies, but there’s more to be done,” said Lucas Veloso of Oxil, a Sao Paulo-based recycling company. “In almost every house and every company there’s still a room where old electronics gather dust, and people still have no idea of what to do with them.”
Vanda Scartezini, co-author of the report, goes more in-depth in an article about the new economic opportunities e-waste management presents to both private firms and individual Brazilian states. It is good that Brazil is taking the initiative to evaluate it’s own environmental impact and create a country-wide e-waste policy. Hopefully, other nations will follow suit.
To learn more about this topic, check out our latest book, Recharge E-waste: Ideas for Reducing Electronic Waste and Greening the Tech World.