Standardizing recycling processes globally to harvest valuable components in electrical and electronic scrap (E-scrap), extending the life of products and markets for their reuse, and harmonizing world legislative and policy approaches to e-scrap are prime goals of a new global public-private initiative called Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP).
Major high-tech manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Dell, Ericsson, Philips and Cisco Systems, join UN, governmental, NGO and academic institutions, along with recycling / refurbishing companies as charter members of the initiative, officially launched March 7.
Valuable resources in every scrapped product with a battery or plug computers, TVs, radios, wired and wireless phones, MP3 players, navigation-systems, microwave ovens, coffee makers, toasters, hair-dryers, to name but a few are being trashed in rising volumes worldwide. Worse, items charitably sent to developing countries for re-use often ultimately remain unused for a host of reasons, or are shipped by unscrupulous recyclers for illegal disposal. And, too often, e-scrap in developing countries is incinerated, not only wasting needed resources but adding toxic chemicals to the environment, both local and global.
"There's more than gold in those mountains of high-tech scrap," says Ruediger Kuehr of the United Nations University, which will host the StEP Secretariat in Bonn. "This partnership is committed to salvaging these increasingly precious resources and preventing them from fouling the environment."
In addition to well-known precious metals such as gold, palladium and silver, unique and indispensable metals have become increasingly important in electronics. Among them: Indium, a by-product of zinc mining used in more than 1 billion products per year, including flat-screen monitors and mobile phones.