Wanting a new smartphone: is it a hot-button issue?

Apr 10, 2018

Mankind produced 4.5 thousand Eiffel towers of electronic waste – about 6.1 kilograms per inhabitant of the planet in 2016 according to the report of the United Nations Global Electronic Waste Monitor 2017.

Companies-manufacturers and sellers try to increase the demand for their products, forcing consumers to abandon obsolete models in favour of new ones. If you noticed new gadgets go out of style in a few months after the purchase. Some companies intentionally degrade performance of their gadgets.

Experts assume that in the recent year we threw out 46 million tons of equipment. In four years, this figure will increase up to 52.2 million tons, which in terms of “personal responsibility” is 6.8 kilograms per person.

Basically, these are large and small household appliances, comprised of about 58% of the entire mass of waste. Considering refrigerators and heaters this equipment makes up three-quarters of all electronic waste. Besides, we threw out 700 thousand tons of lightbulbs in total!

This will increase hundreds of times the volume of toxic electronic waste soon. Today, more than 50 million tons of discarded electronics are found in landfills every year. If we consider the fact that developing countries practically do not recycle “old” electronics and their parts, it is not difficult to imagine the scale of the future environmental problem.

Electronic waste has already become a global new environmental threat for all humanity. It does not matter whether they are damaged or just out of date, as they can have high DANGER HAZARDS, they can contain toxic substances such as lead, mercury, PVC and many more.  

This danger can be demonstrated by nickel-cadmium batteries from telephones – they can pollute about 50,000 liters of water, and one television set for about 80,000 liters of water, emitting lead and phosphorus. Many people know that a regular battery contains many toxic elements, as science and technology news reports, one such energy carrier can spoil 400 liters of water or 20 square meters of soil. Lighting devices, scanners, copiers, MFPs, faxes also contain mercury.

Seeping into the ground, noxious substances poison the soil, contaminating groundwater and surface water bodies, evaporating into the atmosphere. Getting into the human body, toxic substances have a negative effect on the respiratory and nervous system, reduce immunity and cause cancer. Particularly, pollution of the environment with electronic waste can even result a damage of the DNA structure.

Only 41 countries in the world maintain official records of e-waste. Therefore, only 20% of the mass is considered as electronic waste in the report. The fate of most (80%) of electronic waste is extremely vague: most likely, burned, disassembled for parts by handicraft or also thrown away somewhere.

How e-waste is being recycled? Official disposal uses well-developed methods, which separates the necessary fractions from waste. But to build such a plant and start the process with all the necessary technological requirements requires big bucks. In developing countries, where waste recycling is not funded, it is often implemented informally and processed without the necessary requirements and norms.

The most preferable way of disposal is when the government, seller and producer are involved in the process. This is a controlled withdrawal of electronic waste from the public. Each element of the equipment - precious metals, plastic, chemical elements of batteries processed separately and then returned to production.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, this issue is a hot-button issue. The country has a law “On Environmental Protection”, however, related sub-laws and their legal and normative acts lack respective clauses that would explain the essence of the “electronic” waste concept. At some point, any organization or entity is inevitably faced with the need to dispose off electronic waste. Office equipment breaks down or becomes obsolete, then a new one comes to replace it, and it turns out that it is not economically profitable to store the old in the warehouse with a consequence that it ends up being listed on the balance of the organization and the owner cannot write it off and eventually, will have to pay a for keeping it. Therefore, in most cases, old technology is thrown at a landfill, an operation which cannot be undone. There are no enterprises, which process electronic waste in the country, which aggravates the situation.

Over the past few years, environmental experts have alerted that that the number of electronic waste in the Kyrgyz Republic has been on rise; this issue was reviewed by the Government and was included in the National Program of the government titled “40 Steps to a New Era until 2040. It is the public’s expectation, that such measures by the state will allow for gradual improvement of the current situation with waste (and of electronic waste in particular) through joint endeavors by the state, civil society, private sector and international partners.

In view of the above and based on the request from the state, UNDP is embarking upon developing a project on managing electronic waste in the Kyrgyz Republic to be funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF.) Being a credible partner of the Kyrgyz government and its Agency for Environment and Forestry, UNDP will ensure that respective consultations with all relevant stakeholders (both state, public and private) are held in a manner that ensures cross sectoral coordination and lessens the level of duplication.  Such an approach will allow for broader approach, tackling major development problems through the prism of major environmental challenges and concerns associated with proper and safe disposal of electronic and other similar types of waste in the Kyrgyz Republic.


Sergei Juiko, IT Specialist, Zhyldyz Uzakbaeva, UNDP Chemical Portfolio Coordinator

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