NEW YORK — Key gaps in information play an increasingly important role in thwarting efforts at environmental protection -- including the reduction of waste from electronic materials.
The creation of trade codes is necessary to track used electronics products according to a recent study concerning the waste from growing quantities of used electronics devices—including TVs, mobile phones. and computers.
Research involving Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Materials Systems Laboratory, and National Center for Electronics Research, under the umbrella of the Solving the E-waste Problem initiative, with financial support from the United States Environmental Protection Agency was published in a report last week. According to the report, coherent information regarding the movement of electronics is largely unavailable, making it difficult to address the current problem of E-Waste exports. The report encompassed television sets—both CRT and flat panel monitors -- as well as mobile phones, and computers in its survey.
The report re-iterated the need to create trade codes for used products to allow the precise tracking of such products, as well as the need to investigate specific trade codes used by exporters for used electronic material that comes in whole units. As part of the free flow of information that these codes would enable, the report also recommended more open access to shipment level trade data in order to allow for more precise analyses of the flow of exported electronic materials from the United States. It also suggests more cooperation and exchange of information between inspection authorities on either end of these trade flows, as well as increased reporting of re-export destinations, analysis of flows over multiple years, and increased estimation of export flows of used electronics.
The report listed among the challenges inherent to undertaking a survey of e-waste and its exportation from the United States to other parts of the world the “limited mechanisms of data collection, undifferentiated trade codes, lack of consistent definitions for categorizing and labeling used electronics as well as their components, minimal regulatory oversight, and limited agreement on the definitions of end uses.”
As for where products go once they leave US ports, Latin America and the Caribbean are common destinations, along with other parts of North America. Asia constitutes the second most common destination, while Africa is the least common. In the case of mobile phones, Hong Kong in particular and Paraguay, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, and Columbia were cited in the report as frequent destinations. The report pointed out, however, that in some cases these countries are merely “stopping points” rather than final destinations for products before they are re-exported to another country within the region.
Parts of Asia -- in particular Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon -- were listed among those countries that were often final destinations for computers, especially mobile PCs. Approximately 80 percent of used electronics, including mobile phones, television sets, and monitors end up in places with a significant middle class -- whereas Africa receives a very small fraction of used electronics from the United States.