October 16, 2014
The United Nations has immense power over its member nations. While it cannot force countries to establish laws regarding e-waste, it does have considerable influence over powerful nations that can make a tremendous difference throughout the world. Since electronic waste is now an acknowledged problem that most progressive countries are paying attention to, it’s interesting to look at what the UN is contributing.
At the 2014 UN Summit, transitioning the world to more energy-efficient appliances was a hot topic. The goal was to reduce electricity consumption around the world through recyclinge more and reduce energy use during the manufacturing process. There was a heavy focus on developing countries, since those countries are on track to contribute substantially to the amount of electronics discarded as waste in the coming years.
Moving beyond switching to energy-efficient appliances, the UN Industrial Development Organization, otherwise known as UNIDO, has joined forces with Dell to discover and implement e-waste solutions for Africa, Asia and Latin America. The UN-Dell agreement states the following as goals for the partnership:
News of this United Nations e-waste initiative is too fresh to tell the outcome, but we are hopeful that it will make a difference for the developing world. The UN has acknowledged that one of the biggest problems with e-waste in developing countries is the short lifespan of most electronics currently used in those countries. Partnerships with big electronic companies to research e-waste solutions are a good step in the direction.
The Solving the E-Waste Problem initiative, often referred to as StEP, evolved from a project completed at the United Nations University. The project looked at the relationship between computers and other electronics and the environment. The completion of the project lead to a published book, and that book lead to an international initiative to make e-waste recycling mainstream throughout the world.
While this program is not directly operated or funded by the United Nations, the initiative’s roots do rest in research that was created through the United Nations University. The UN Under-Secretary-General serves as the Rector of the University, and new ideas that spark in the University are often the starting points for world-changing initiatives championed by various UN departments.
The goals of the StEP program are to educate the world about e-waste, encourage e-waste recycling and increase the lifespan of electronic products. The program also aims to raise awareness about electronic differences between industrialized nations and developing nations.
Notice that United Nations e-waste initiatives don’t go as far as setting laws or addressing problems in individual member countries. The UN is more indirectly involved through initiatives supported by various departments. This is expected of an international organization with no direct influence over the laws and decisions of member countries when it comes to electronic waste.
The fact that the UN has publically acknowledged the problem of e-waste in the developing world is encouraging. Those countries will make an enormous impact on the health of the planet in coming years, so right now is the time to establish proper electronic disposal procedures in those countries.