Health Threats Circular Economy Need to be Addressed

Nairobi, 4 December 2017 “If we want to promote business opportunities in the circular economy of developing countries, accelerating the sound management of chemicals and waste, it is pivotal to address the informal sector. We must strive for inclusive recycling processes, promote sustainable supply chains for secondary materials and improve the living conditions for those who were actually pioneering the circular economy concept since decades.”

Informal sector
Mathias Schluep, WRF, Photo IISD/ENB

This said Mathas Schluep, WRF Program Director, speaking at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya. He spoke at a session on accelerating the sound management of chemicals and waste – “Towards a Pollution-Free Planet” – organised by the governments of Germany, Mauritius and Uruguay, the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, UN Environment, the International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre, the World Economic Forum and the World Resources Forum.

Children and women exposed to various health threats

“Due to their daily contact with garbage”, Schluep said, “people working in informal waste management, including children, are exposed to various health threats. In the absence of rules and regulations, materials with no monetary incentive are either not collected, get dumped or are burned, leading to various adverse effects on the environment. In addition, hazardous chemicals are not removed in the recycling process, cross-contaminating recovered materials in the value chain. Most critical are the impacts on vulnerable workers in the informal sector, such as children and women. Therefore, many of those recycled materials, or secondary materials as we call them, are not produced in a sustainable way. Still they find their way back into our consumer products. Your mobile phone might contain copper, which has been recovered by children in Ghana through burning cables. Unlike primary materials this hasn’t been acknowledged as a conflict mineral or as a irresponsible commodity. In fact, for secondary materials in general, sustainable sourcing standards and transparency in secondary supply chains do not exist.”

informal sectorThe World Resources Forum, together with its partners the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology Empa and funded through the Swiss Government is partnering since several years with various developing countries in e-waste recycling projects under the umbrella of the Sustainable Recycling Industries programme.

Schluep referred to an example of the WRF project in India. “The informal plastic recycling sector in Delhi involves a staggering 25’000 individuals who are involved in an informal value chain, contributing to a circular economy in India. A well described cluster is the area called Tikri Kalan, a trading and sorting cluster located in the east of Delhi. On an area of around 1.5 km2, around 2000 tonnes of materials are traded every working day.”

Global multistakeholder process to address issues informal sector

The WRF has launched a global multi stakeholder process to address the issue of informality in the recycling sector, which has resulted in a document produced under the International Organization for Standardization. This ISO document was launched this year at the COP of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and provides a framework for inclusive recycling. The framework describes sustainability and traceability requirements for a transparent secondary metals value chain and promotes the formalization of unofficial businesses and subsistence activities – hence for those working in the informal sector.

Informal sectorThe panel discussion brought together high-level representatives from partner countries, the UN system, civil society and the private sector to present their innovative and forward-looking solutions to beat pollution from chemicals and wastes. The panelists shared their experiences in the areas related to the promotion of circular business models, integrated policies and regulations, multi-stakeholder partnerships, innovation and safe technologies.

informal sector
BRS Secretariat with Swiss Environment Ambassador Franz Perrez, photo @BRS Conventions

After an introduction by Jacob Duer, Chemicals and Health Branch, UN Environment, a panel discussion was moderated by Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. Other speakers were Nema Devi Goorah, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Security, National Solidarity and Environment and Sustainable Development, Mauritius, Alejandro Garofali, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to UNEP and UN-Habitat, Jutta Emig, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Germany, Friedrich Barth, International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre, Mathias Schluep, World Resources Forum, and Antonia Gawel, World Economic Forum.

Materials of the event (download, PDF):

Watch here the full video registration:

Photos courtesy IISD/ENB