While there were limited discussions on e-waste at COP27, waste management was discussed a fair amount – for example, through the 50by2050 initiative and the Global Methane Pledge.
🌱 Has e-waste been on a COP agenda?
The problems resulting from e-waste – and more broadly from waste – have yet to receive the attention they deserve at a COP. In 2021, the International Data Sanitisation Consortium and several other organizations unsuccessfully lobbied for e-waste to be added to the agenda of COP26 in Glasgow. In an open letter, the organizations argued that “promoting greener, more sustainable models of waste management is […] critical […] for tackling our climate emergency”. The letter also argued that “there has been a total disregard for e-waste [and] a missed opportunity to encourage […] the circular economy”. Moreover, it argued that “opportunities to promote and incentivize more reuse and recycling of scarce materials and functional products have been overlooked”.
🌱 Was e-waste and hazardous waste discussed at COP27?
On November 17th, 2022, there was a panel discussion held on the sidelines of the COP27, which addressed e-waste. It was titled “Management of e-Waste as a Source of Urban Mining within the Concept of Circular Economy (Refurbish, Reuse and Recycle)”. It addressed topics such as the “increasing size of e-waste resulting from the current and expected acceleration of digital transformation, the impact of hazardous material on the environment and health of citizenry, and the important future of the e-waste industry, especially in Africa”. The panel also addressed “formalizing the informal sector, developing regulations, building capacity in recycling and refurbishing, and promoting entrepreneurship in this field through incubation and accreditation schemes”. There was also a side event held on November 11th, 2022 that addressed the impact of waste and particularly hazardous waste on the climate. The event was titled “Unmanaged Waste - a hidden cause of climate change”.
🌱 What is the 50by2050 initiative?
The value of recoverable recyclables in Africa in 2014 was estimated to have been $8bn, and this is expected to grow to $60bn by 2050. In the past, the African Union has called on all African cities to take measures to recycle at least 50% of the urban waste by 2023. The 50by2050 initiative builds on this and aims to recycle 50% of all (urban and rural) waste produced in Africa by 2050. The initiative was led by Egypt and it was “the first time in [COP] history that a holistic coalition [was] launched to address waste challenges and reduce the sector's climate change impact”. After the first two meetings held in July and August 2022, more than 45 public entities and over 60 private sector partners committed to the initiative.
🌱 What impact could the 50by2050 initiative have on e-waste?
The open dumpsites in several African countries – particularly in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal, and Egypt – have amassed large quantities of the global e-waste. The conservative estimates for all e-waste located in Africa in 2019 laid between 3.4 and 5.8 metric tonnes. Over 60% of this e-waste was derived from imports. Considering the lack of proper waste management, these dumpsites can cause risks to human health and lead to environmental contamination. A coordinated regional approach – entailing new regulation and effective monitoring and compliance mechanisms – is urgently needed. As e-waste forms a considerable part of recoverable recyclables in Africa, the 50by2050 initiative will hopefully also help to tackle e-waste.
🌱 What is needed to make the 50by2050 initiative a success?
A lot of the discussions around the 50by2050 initiative at COP27 stressed the necessity of implementing legislation to restrict the flow of waste from abroad into Africa, while still recognizing the economic significance of the waste picker economy for workers’ livelihoods. Ana Le Rocha (executive director of Nipe Fagio) said that to be successful “[t]he initiative must focus on job-generating and inclusive solutions, discarding industry-led initiatives like incineration and chemical recycling and ensuring that waste pickers and waste cooperatives are formative parts of the models to be adopted”. Similarly, Niven Reddy (Regional Coordinator for GAIA Africa) said that: “th[e] initiative can only be effective if it includes organic waste management, inclusion and recognition of waste pickers, and phase out of residual waste and fundamentally moving away from incineration and other climate-polluting waste management practices”.
🌱 What is the Global Methane Pledge?
As methane is over 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide, tackling it is seen as critical to achieving the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5˚C under the Paris Agreement. The Global Methane Pledge was launched by the USA, EU, and partners, as a part of COP26, on November 2nd, 2021. The pledge aims to reduce methane and over 130 countries have signed it to date. Under the pledge, countries have “commit[ted] to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030 and moving towards using best available inventory methodologies to quantify methane emissions”. The global waste sector is the third largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions, making sound waste management key to living up to the Global Methane Pledge.
🌱 Where is waste management headed post COP27?
The impact of COP27 on global waste management remains to be seen. How the 50by2050 initiative and the Global Methane Pledge tackle emissions from waste has the potential to play a significant role in reducing both global carbon and methane emissions. Yet, looking to States to solve the problem is not the only route that can be taken. The waste sector, and especially the e-waste sector, provide a wealth of opportunities for social entrepreneurs, businesses, and communities to tackle emissions and contribute to sustainable development.
🌱 What initiatives on e-waste recycling and supply chains would be worth discussing at COP28?
In addition to regional initiatives to recycle more waste – such as the 50by2050 initiative, it would be fruitful to discuss new global incentives to reuse and recycle e-waste and transition minerals at COP28. If we want to make sure transition minerals are won and e-waste is recycled in an ethical and sustainable way, this needs to be put on the global agenda. In line with this, it would be worth discussing ways to improve global supply chain due diligence and auditing for transition minerals and e-waste at COP28. These supply chains should be governed in a responsible and transparent manner to minimize the risks of conflict, violence, human rights abuses, and environmental harms. Yet, this will only work if the private sector, governments, civil society, and local communities collaborate.
🌱 What initiatives on circular economy would be worth discussing?
If we want to tackle the issues e-waste poses and assure that the transition to renewable energy happens in a sustainable and just way, a comprehensive global green strategy is needed. This should entail a scaling up of the circular economy, increased second-hand use of electronics, and the enactment of “right to repair” legislation (making it easier for consumers to prolong the life of their devices).
Read more on why global e-waste should be addressed at a COP here: