Greenpeace is challenging manufacturers of electronic goods to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, from production, through manufacture and to the very end of their products’ lives. Only in this way can we ensure that the dangerous tide of toxic e-waste can be stemmed, and that the hidden flow of e-waste does not become a problem in anybody’s backyard.
Executive summary: A dangerous new waste stream is rapidly emerging.
Greenpeace has commissioned the report, Toxic Tech: Not in Our
Backyard, to investigate the global sales of electrical and electronic
products and assess the amount of waste arising from this.
The UN estimates that some 20 to 50m tonnes of e-waste are
generated worldwide each year, comprising more than 5% of all
municipal solid waste. The fate of large quantities of this so-called
e-waste is unknown. This “hidden flow” is the e-waste that escapes
responsible collection, reuse and recycling systems and as such is
While some might be found stored in attics or garages or disposed
of with mixed waste in landfills and incinerators, thousands more
electrical and electronic products that have reached the end of
their lives are exported, often illegally, for dumping in Africa or for
rudimentary recovery by Asian informal recyclers. There, workers
at scrap yards - some of whom are children – are exposed to a
cocktail of toxic chemicals when the products are broken apart,
and as water, air and soil are polluted.
The quantities of e-waste generated are predicted to grow
substantially in the future, both in industrialised countries and in
developing countries, which are expected to triple their e-waste by
2010. The rich countries often legally or illegally divert this problem
from their own backyards. The hidden flow of e-waste that results
causes environmental damage in the backyards and scrapyards of
Ultimately, the principle of producer responsibility, which requires
producers to take financial and/or management responsibility for
their products when they reach the end-of-life phase, needs to be
at the core of any measures to address the e-waste problem. The
escalating e-waste problem makes it imperative to also address the
source, the design of electrical and electronic products.
Greenpeace continues to push the major electronics makers to:
- Embrace the principle of ‘Individual Producer Responsibility’;
where companies take financial responsibility for their
products once discarded by customers. Individual producer
responsibility calls for the cost of waste management to be
incorporated into the product price, enacting the “polluter
pays” principle and by differentiating between companies it
motivates them to improve the environmental design of the
- Design out toxics; clean up their products by eliminating
hazardous substances, replacing harmful ingredients
through use of safer alternatives or design changes.
Greenpeace believes that the e-waste crisis should not be
regarded only as a waste management issue but that the
solution also lies in product design.
Greenpeace is challenging manufacturers of electronic goods to
take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, from
production, through manufacture and to the very end of their
products’ lives. Only in this way can we ensure that the dangerous
tide of toxic e-waste can be stemmed, and that the hidden flow of
e-waste does not become a problem in anybody’s backyard.