Impacts on Climate Change and Contribution to Circular Economy of Informal E-Waste Recycling in Developing Countries

by Fabian Ottiger (presenting author), Sonia Valdivia, Mathias Schluep

World Resources Forum (WRF), Switzerland


Circular economy (CE) has become an imperative approach to face the growing natural resources scarcity, and need for their efficient use, as well as the decoupling of economic growth from environmental impacts while creating means of income for the population. In developing countries, high recycling rates are registered. Concerning e-waste, more than 90% is collected and recycled by the informal sector. However, in lowest income countries with poor laws’ enforcement, the worst practices emerge with impacts on health and safety, child labor, illegal trade, and environmental damage through highly toxic POP and GHG impacting on climate change.

The case of secondary metal value chains can illustrate the growing pressure from countries with scarce resources and metal-demanding industries (such as China and India as main metal scrap importers from Africa), to countries with resources available (such as African countries). The paradox is that some countries rich in resources are putting their own industrial development at risk by not being able to cover their own demand for resources.

This paper elaborates on challenges and opportunities of CE and climate change reduction through inclusive sustainable metal recycling in developing countries as guided by the ISO IWA 19. The ISO IWA 19 supports improving the work of the informal sector and preventing the worst practices. For example, 660 kg of GHG can be saved per fridge dismantled in a non-controlled way. This can result for countries like Ghana or South Africa in savings of thousands of tons per year of GHG. Additional benefits are the working and natural environments improved, in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals in particular in areas of climate change reduction, poverty alleviation, waste management and sustainable consumption and production.