ITU boosts e-waste, climate battle efforts

ITU boosts e-waste, climate battle efforts


Stakeholders across the spectrum are responding to predictions of massive growth in e-waste and the detrimental effects discarded electronic devices have in the developing world.

Major national and international telecommunications firms, for example, committed to developing the first industry standard universal charger to promote efficiency and aid in the battle against climate change, the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Industry (ITU) announced this week.

The new charger upgrades a 2009 universal battery charging system decision by the ITU that eliminates the need for individual chargers for products sold by different manufacturers. This will eliminate the need for manufacturers to sell chargers with each new phone.

With this week’s decision, the ITU expanded the reach of the universal charger to cover cameras, GPS systems, headphones and other lower-power devices. The new chargers will use faster charging currents to reduce charging tomes, and also feature a detachable cable with standardized connectors to allow data transfer. These additions will reduce the number of cords needed, decrease production energy consumption and ultimately impact the amount of waste generated by the industry. ITU officials expect manufacturers to roll out the chargers –which will be produced with eco-friendly materials – by the billions over the next few years.

“Other standards claim to be universal and energy efficient, but only ITU’s solution is truly universal and a real step forward in addressing environmental and climate change issues,” ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure said after the decision. “This updated standard will bring the benefits of the universal charger to a wider range of devices and consumers… The environmental impact of wide adoption will be enormous.”

Several major industry players have already committed to the new system, including AT&T, France Telecom-Orange, Swisscom, Telecom Italia and the China Academy of Telecommunication Research. The Geneva-based ITU works with 192 governments and over 700 private sector entities to set industry standards.

Buy-in from industry players operating or based in high usage growth regions like Asia and Africa is paramount for the broadest impact. In China, for example, the growth of the middle class over the last decade has catapulted demand for electronics while domestic energy consumption levels have risen dramatically.

The new standard meets requirements of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal –known more commonly as simply the Basel Convention –according to the ITU.

E-waste –the collective name for discarded or scrap electronics like television, cellular telephones, refrigerators and computers –remains a major campaign focal point for influential stakeholders such as Basel Action Network, Greenpeace International and the Campaign for Recycling.

The world produces around 40 billion metric tons of e-waste every year –with hundreds of millions of tons making their way to landfills in places like China, Nigeria and India. The components contain toxins and heavy metals like mercury and lead which leak into nearby soil and water supplies, and endanger the health of impoverished workers picking through landfills for components to sell.

In late 2010, the United Nations released a report with stark warnings about the growth rate of e-waste in developing countries. India will see a 500% growth in the amount of e-waste in its’ landfills over the next decade, while China and South Africa will see 400% increases over their 2007 levels in the next ten years. The bulk of the waste will not originate in those countries but come from abroad, predominantly the U.S.

Multi-stakeholder initiatives in the U.S. and internationally are looking to address the need for better recycling and waste processing. Companies including Samsung, Capital One, Bank of America and the Apollo Group have signed up as Basel Action Network e-Stewards committing to support the group’s rigorous certification process for responsible electronics recycling. In April 2011 the Consumer Electronics Association pledged to triple recycling rates in the U.S. for e-waste by 2016, to equal one billion pounds of electronics annually, through a combination of public education projects, infrastructure building and recycling enhancement. The industry group’s eCycling Leadership Initiative will look to build national recycling standards to enhance different state-level policies.

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