UN Report Highlights Environmental, Health Risks from E-Waste

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As reported by the IISD, Seven UN entities released a report calling for a new vision for e-waste based on the circular economy. The report highlights that annual e-waste production is worth over USD 62.5 billion, underscoring the significant opportunity in moving towards a circular economy.

The report titled, ‘A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot,’ finds that the global economy generates approximately 50 million tonnes of e-waste annually, or approximately six kilograms per person on the planet. Less than 20 percent of this e-waste is recycled, resulting in global health and environmental risks to workers who are exposed to carcinogenic and hazardous substances, such as cadmium, lead and mercury, and to soil and groundwater, which are contaminated by e-waste in landfills, placing food and water systems at risk. Low recycling rates also contribute to the loss of scarce and valuable natural materials: for example, up to seven percent of the world’s gold may be currently contained in e-waste. Under a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, the UN University (UNU) predicts e-waste could nearly triple to 120 million tonnes by 2050.

“There is a trail of e-waste generated from old technology” that needs to be addressed, the report states. One-half of all e-waste is personal devices, such as smartphones, screens, computers, tablets and TVs, and the rest is household appliances and heating and cooling equipment. Europe and the US generate nearly one-half of global e-waste annually.

The report argues that systematic collaboration with major brands, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), civil society and other stakeholders is necessary to change the system and reduce e-waste. The report calls for a circular economy in which resources are valued and reused in ways that create decent, sustainable jobs and minimize environmental impacts. To capture the global value of materials in the e-waste and circular value chains, the report suggests manufacturer or retailer take-back programs and better product tracking. The report also recommends developing recycling infrastructure and scaling up the volume and quality of recycled materials to meet the needs of electronics supply chains. Further, the report explains that cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) can support gradual de-materialization of the electronics industry.

The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PAGE) produced the report on behalf of seven UN entities that collaborate on the E-waste Coalition: the ILO; the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); UNEP, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), UNU and the Secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions, with support from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The UN launched the report at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland. 

IATA rolls out DG AutoCheck to enhance safety in dangerous goods transport

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently launched Dangerous Goods AutoCheck (DG AutoCheck), a new innovative solution for the air cargo industry, which will enhance safety and improve efficiency in the transport of dangerous goods by air, and support the industry’s goal of a fully digitised supply chain.

“The air transport industry handles over 1.25 million dangerous goods shipments transported every year. With the air cargo growth forecasted at 4.9 percent every year over the next five years, the number is expected to rise significantly. To ensure that the air cargo industry is ready to benefit from this growth, it needs to adopt modern and harmonised standards that will facilitate safe, secure and efficient operations, particularly in relations to carriage of dangerous goods. DG AutoCheck is a significant step towards achieving this goal,” said Nick Careen, senior vice president, airport, passenger, cargo and security, IATA.

FACILITATING ACCEPTANCE CHECKS

DG AutoCheck is a digital solution that allows the air cargo supply chain to check the compliance of the Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods (DGD) against all relevant rules and regulations contained in the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations.

The tool enables electronic consignment data to be received directly, which supports the digitisation of the cargo supply chain. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology also transforms a paper DGD into electronic data. This data is then processed and verified automatically using the XML data version of the DGR.

DG AutoCheck also facilitates a ground handlers or airline’s decision to accept or reject a shipment during the physical inspection stage, by providing a pictorial representation of the package, with the marking and labelling required for air transport.

“The DGR lists over 3,000 entries for dangerous goods. Each one must comply with the DGR when shipped. The paper DGR consists of 1,100 pages. Manually checking each shipper’s declaration is a complex and time consuming task. Automation with DG AutoCheck offers us a giant step forward. The cargo supply chain will benefit from greater efficiency, streamlined processes and enhanced safety,” said David Brennan, assistant director, cargo safety and standards, IATA.

INDUSTRY COLLABORATION

Collaboration is critical in driving industry transformation, especially for a business with such a complex supply chain. DG AutoCheck is a good example of effective industry partnerships.

An industry working group made up of more than twenty global organisations supported the development of DG AutoCheck. The group comprises airlines, freight forwarders, ground handlers and express integrators, including Air France-KLM CargoSwissportPanalpina and DHL Express.

“The air cargo supply chain is currently undergoing a major digital evolution. Collaboration across the industry is essential if the goal of a digitised electronic end-to-end messaging platform is to be realised. There is no time to lose as there is a growing demand from our customers for efficiency of electronic documentation throughout the supply chain,” said Nick Careen, senior vice president, airport, passenger, cargo and security, IATA.

 

Recycling end-of-life materials may be perpetuating toxic chemicals in new products

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A researcher from the Canadian Environmental Law Association and paralegal, Fe de Leon, recently co-published a paper with HEJSupport International Co-Director Olga Speranskaya to bring public attention to toxic chemicals that appear in new products made out of recycled materials.  The authors of the paper argue that many countries have made investments into achieving progress towards a circular economy, but little or no attention is paid on toxic chemicals that appear in new products made out of recycled materials. The paper cites a growing body of evidence of how a circular economy fails to address concerns regarding toxic chemicals in products.

Fe de Leon, Researcher and Paralegal, CELA

In the paper, the authors cite a 2017 study prepared by IPEN, an environmental activist organization that focuses on synthetic chemicals, which revealed elevated concentrations of globally targeted toxic flame retardants in plastic toys.  The IPEN study claimed to have found elevated concentrations of toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in samples of plastic toys purchased in different stores in Canada and other 25 countries globally.  The study further stated that the levels of some chemicals were more than five times higher than recommended international limits.  These chemicals include PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) such as octabromodiphenyl ether (OctaBDE), decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE); and SCCPs (short chain chlorinated paraffins).  They are listed under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and are internationally banned or restricted due to their hazardous characteristics.  They all are persistent, highly toxic, travel long distances and build up in the food chain.  However, their presence in new products, although they are banned or restricted, opens up the discussion of a problem regarding recycling as a key component of a circular economy.

The paper concludes that product recycling and a focus on a circular economy should be encouraged.  However, material flows should be free from hazardous chemicals, at the minimum those chemicals which have already been regulated under the international treaties.

Olga Speranskaya, HEJSupport International Co-Director, IPEN CoChair

U.S. System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders Program

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) Program to assist emergency responders making procurement decisions. Located within the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the SAVER Program conducts objective assessments and validations on commercial equipment and systems, and provides those results along with other relevant equipment information to the emergency responder community. For more information, read the SAVER Program Fact Sheet.

The SAVER Program mission includes:

  • Conducting impartial, practitioner‑relevant, operationally oriented assessments and validations of emergency response equipment; and,
  • Providing information, in the form of knowledge products, that enables decision‑makers and responders to better select, procure, use, and maintain emergency response equipment.

Addressing Technologies

SAVER contains more than 1,000 assessments of equipment that falls within 21 different categories on the DHS Authorized Equipment List (AEL). Categories include:

  • Search and Rescue
  • Information Technology
  • CBRNE Detection
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Decontamination
  • Surveillance
  • Explosive Countermeasures

This information is shared nationally with the responder community, providing a cost-saving resource to DHS and other federal, state, and local agencies. Additionally, more than 20 different programs offer grants to purchase equipment on the AEL List.

Objective Assessments and Validations

SAVER is supported by a network of qualified technical agents who play a critical role in providing impartial evaluations and by helping to ensure these evaluations address real-world operational requirements. Participating organizations include the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, DHS S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory, as well as emergency response practitioners, law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and emergency managers, all of whom help to ensure these activities address real-world operational requirements.

Based on their assessments, technical agents produce documents, including product lists, reports, plans, rating charts, handbooks, and guides that describe the equipment, their capabilities, features, and potential applications. This provides first responders with a well-rounded picture to help inform procurement decisions.

SAVER Documents and Outreach

Partnerships

Biodetection Resources for First Responders

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Lesson Learned Information Sharing – Knowledge Base

Inter Agency Board – Standardized Equipment List

JUSTNet: The Website of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center