E-waste: An Example of Collaborating to ‘Make the World a Better Place’

16 Feb 2015

  Government representatives, academics, private sector and activists should come together to solve global issues such as e-waste

By Patrick Haverman - 

Last month at the UNDP we had a meeting to discuss the future of electronic waste, or more commonly known as e-waste, in China. E-waste such as used televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and mobile phones contain harmful substances like lead and mercury which if not disposed off correctly can damage the environment and eventually human beings. The seminar was a great example of government, private sector, civil society and academia coming together because the problem was simply too big to handle for one party alone.

The e-waste seminar represented a much-needed platform where interactions between these four parties could took place. The seminar introduced many best practices by private sector electronics companies, such as Baidu-TCL, GEM-Aihuishou, Gree and Lenovo, to government representatives, academics, and civil society and international organizations. It was more than clear that current e-waste recycling and disposal practices “best practices” are collaborative in nature.

For example, Baidu representatives discussed the e-waste application called Baidu Recycle which was launched last year out of a UNDP-Baidu-TCL collaboration. UNDP initiated the idea, Baidu created the app with input of civil society and some academics while TCL served as the offline recycling company that would collect and recycle used electronic products from consumers. Similarly other experts discussed additional industry-wide mechanisms towards efficient e-waste management such as the Tianjin Green Supply Center’s Green Supply Chain and SinoCarbon Co. Ltd, a leading carbon consultancy firm’s assessment of China’s carbon market. These wide array of solutions and lessons learned can be found in the seminar Briefing Paper. These socially responsible companies can serve as “good examples,” and subtlety advocate to their colleagues in the sector and publically advocate for policy changes from the government.

In addition to private sector and academic experts, civil society groups play an important role in spreading awareness of e-waste recycling and low carbon development. If these NGOs/civil society organizations had not advocated around the issue, it is highly improbable that e-waste would be receiving the kind of attention and discussion it is generating now.

The UN at the global level plays a role as a catalyst for inter-governmental processes which can result in legally binding instruments such as treaties, conventions but only if there is cooperation from all the governments. At the national level the UNDP convened the e-waste seminar, bringing together all stakeholders: government, academics, private sector and civil society.

Today, the world is reaching a phase where the walls between government and other institutions are fading because of the open global markets and the need to face common global problems with our hands joined. The modern problems we face are such that we must come up with innovative solutions for which there is a need for divergent thinking. There needs to be more participation from experts of all the sectors to address these issues as exemplified by the UNDP-Ministry of Environment Protection (MEP) e-waste seminar.  

More and more collaboration of this type is needed in many areas. The world is a diverse place, with at least 193 countries (member states of the UN) and with an ever greater interconnectedness between these nations and their citizens. At the international level there are basically four global voices which can be differentiated: national governments/civil servants, the science/academic community, the private sector and the civil society/activists. Predominantly these different groups are displayed as having opposing interests, but the truth is they have a common objective in making the world a better place, however they may use different means to reach the same end.

We must not forget that the United Nations formulated and adopted the UN Millennium Declaration on 8th September 2000. This declaration embodied a great deal of specific commitments all aimed at improving the situation of humanity.

Later this year, in September 2015, all the world leaders will come together to agree on a new set of goals: the “Sustainable Development Goals” and confirm their intentions to achieve the set targets. Moving forward, the SDGs will commit all actors such as civil servants, academics, private sector and activists, to these new goals which should lead to a more balanced and sustainable development path for the future of the earth.

The different motives that drive these groups need to be better understood before collaboration and joint efforts from all angles can be accomplished. A multifaceted approach is required for addressing these goals, common to each one of us in the world. It is imperative that not just you and me but the world comes together and takes these important steps forward to make the world a better place.

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