East & Southeast Asian E-Waste Monitored

The use and amount of electric and electronic devices is growing steadily, and so does the resulting waste of this equipment. Such as the supply chains of these products, their reverse chains at end-of-life are growing and getting more and more international.

East & Southeast Asia is no exemption, but as a key region in the production of electronics and electrical equipment is getting increasingly involved in both formal and informal recycling, secondhand use and disposal. But there are national differences, according to the “Regional E-Waste Monitor: East & Southeast Asia“, compiled by the United Nations University and funded by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment.

There are two groups of national jurisdiction: The first including Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan with an average e-waste generation rate higher than 10 kg/capita, and the second including the rest falling below this rate. The study also distinguishes four types of implementing e-waste regulations: the “advanced mechanism“, the “voluntary initiative“ as well as the jurisdiction “in transmission“ and the “informal initiative“.

The “Advanced Mechanism“

Japan shows a high per capita e-waste arising of 17.3 kg/inhabitant in 2014 and is one of the largest generators of e-waste in the region with a projection of 2.3 million tons in 2016. Having enacted specific e-waste legislation, Japan regulates transboundary movements of hazardous and non-hazardous recyclables by the Basel Law and a Waste Management Law. Taiwan has the third highest per capita waste arising in the region of 18.6 kg/inhabitant in 2014 and estimated 436,000 tons generated in 2014. 13 categories of recyclable waste are regulated, and a so-called “4-in-1 Recycling Program” is an incentive for the informal waste collecting and recycling sector to improve resource recovery and basic environmental protections. South Korea reached an e-waste arising to nearly 16 kg/capita in 2014 and over 800,000 tons in general. A relatively low recycling rate is intended to be equalized by a new legislation with extended producer responsibility as central principle and including environmental issues, hazardous substances and appropriate waste treatment.

The study characterizes these three e-waste regulation systems as strong legal framework based on an established and functional infrastructure assuring high environmental health and safety standards.

The “Voluntary Initiative“

The second type ist represented by Singapore and Hong Kong. Singapore’s e-waste production is expected to grow to nearly 21 kg per inhabitant by 2018; the generation is estimated to about 60,000 tons per year. Without a specific legislation for that kind of waste – locally even classifiable as non-hazardous solid waste –, various options for the implementation of a management framework were reflected. The National Environment Agency has launched a national voluntary partnership with interested stakeholders.

Concerning Hong Kong, UNU estimates an e-waste generation of approximately 156,000 tons in 2014, but also officially a recovery rate of approximately 80 percent is reported. As a hub, Hong Kong internationally trades regulated e-waste either as secondhand goods or as waste. Although a specific e-waste legislation is missed, intiatives for voluntary programs were raised and a draft legislation for WEEE management including extended producer responsibility was to be implemented in 2016. The re-export of e-waste to Hong Kong is prevented by an enhanced import control. On the other hand, Hong Kong also acts as a base for re-export of e-waste from other countries to China.

In this type of system – in the absence of a legal framework – the private sector (mostly international manufacturers and recyclers) takes the initiative to implement programs for e-waste. As they are entirely voluntary, the system’s participants usually operate based on commercial imperatives rather than regulatory requirements.

Systems “In Transition“

China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam: all of them have a so-called “recent” e-waste legislation and are in a transitionary phase with a mix of formal and informal elements. China, for instance, has seen a dramatic increase in quantities: E-waste being disposed of domestically in China rose from 9.91 million units in 2001 to 109.80 million units in 2013, whereas WEEE treated increased from 25.84 million units in 2012 to 70 million units in 2014. The generation of e-waste is estimated by nearly 6 million tons, not to mention the 1.5 to 3.3 million tons imported every year. The e-waste recycling system traditionally offered work for widespread informal e-waste collectors and recyclers. As formal recyclers with higher treatment costs were unable to compete on price, the government gave incentives to strengthen the formal sector. So until July 2014, 106 facilities have been authorized for funding under the incentive scheme, partly with additional help from foreign recycling companies.

Malaysia’s e-waste generation is estimated by UNU at approximately 250,000 tons of e-waste per year and at a rate of 7.8 kg per inhabitant. The country has neither an e-waste-specific legislation nor a legally obligatory take-back system; the waste is sold to private collectors. But the multinationals dominating the electro(nic) production market launched campaigns and pilot programs for awareness-raising on e-waste-disposal.

The e-waste amount at the Philippines is estimated at approximately 125,000 tons and a rate of 1.35 kg per inhabitant per year. The country has not yet ratified the Basel Ban Amendment. A partnership with Japan allows the import of chemical, hospital and municipal wastes into the Philippines, but illegal imports mainly from industrialized countries like the United States, Korea, Thailand and Japan are likely to occur. The lack of proper disposal facilities and infrastructure enables the dumping of large quantities in open pits or exported to other countries for further metal recovery.

With a generation of 115,000 tons of e-waste and a rate of 1.34 kg per inhabitant per year, Vietnam has one of the lowest rates in the region. Currently the recycling system practices cherry-picking of only materials of known value. Allegedly the recycled material is exported to China, the rest mostly dumped into the environment. A dedicated e-waste management is strongly needed.

The “Informal Initiative“

The last type of “informal initiative“ countries contains of Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand – comparable in the need to establish legal frameworks for e-waste management. In Campodia, the informal sector collects and sells the usable e-waste. Unusable residues are disposed of, burned or discarded. In Indonesia, an effective control of illegal imports and any regulation for managing locally generated e-waste is missed. In the Kingdom of Thailand, most of the e-waste generated is collected and processed by the informal sector with hazardous dismantling techniques. According to the study, these countries feature an active informal sector with an established network for collection and import of end-of-life products and their recycling.

Measures remain a challenge

The study summarizes that all above mentioned – and only sketchy characterized – countries control e-waste transboundary shipments either by Basel Convention or own national regulations. They all have control measures concerning the import of e-waste, while some of them restrict the import of second-hand electronics and others prohibit it. However, in common “enforcement of these measures remains a significant challenge in these countries and many others around the globe“, the study finalizes. Political measures including legal frameworks are surely an instrument to increase e-waste management. But no policy can be realized without financial support, either by governmental funding, by public-private partnership or by private investors. So the study not only suggests that in several of the East & Southeast Asia countries the insufficient capturing and analysing of statistical e-waste data and the maintaining of a national inventory is due to a lack of investment. And that these countries have made previous attempts, often supported by international development agencies, to establish such inventories of e-waste. But the study also points out to China where foreign recycling companies invested in facilities – often with state-of-the-art equipment for processing e-waste. Likewise the Philippines, where partly international recycling companies funded treatment, storage and disposal and introduced international standards on environmentally sound management for hazardous wastes. Or Malaysia – “with an open economy that welcomes trade and investments“.

The full “Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia“ is available under http://ewastemonitor.info/pdf/Regional-E-Waste-Monitor.pdf

Photo: O. Kürth

GR 32017