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Grant Funds Cross-Border Illegal E-Waste Tracking

E-waste being incinerated (EMPA)

E-waste being incinerated (EMPA)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded a $2.5 million grant to help international efforts that curb improper disposal of hazardous electronic waste. EPA estimates that only about five percent of the more than 40 million metric tonnes of annual global e-waste are being recovered.

The five-year grant to the United Nations University (UNU) will help authorities track shipments of North American e-waste, including  end-of-life computers, TVs and cell phones. The UNU program is also intended to support African and Asian nations in coping with imports of these e-waste products.

Better disposal practices of electronic devices can lead to substantial economic benefits. Many valuable and critical metals can be found in e-waste, including tin, indium, palladium and cobalt. Experts estimate that recycling 1 million cell phones can recover about 24 kg (50 lb) of gold, 250 kg (550 lb) of silver, 9 kg (20 lb) of palladium, and more than 9,000 kg (20,000 lb) of copper.

The UNU program is expected to help authorities better understand the nature of the flows of used electronics, including the routes by which used electronics are leaving the country and assess methods to quantify the amount of used electronics in those shipments. The program is also aimed at generating science-based pilot and demonstration projects for e-waste refurbishment and disposal.

In addition, UNU plans to develop environmentally sound e-waste management protocols, including methods for border enforcement of illegal e-waste shipments. Plans call for collaborating first with port officials in West Africa and Asia on this project.

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