E-waste Management in the Caribbean
E-waste or Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) refers to discarded components, assemblies and consumable items that rely on an electrical current for use. These include end-of-life small and large household appliances, IT and telecommunications equipment, consumer, lighting, leisure and sports equipment, electrical and electronic tools, toys, medical devices, monitoring and control instruments and automatic dispensers.
WEEE contains over 1,000 different substances, many of which are considered hazardous by the Basel Convention. Toxic components include heavy metals such as mercury which is addressed by the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and brominated flame retardants which are addressed by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
WEEE also contains valuable metals such as gold, copper, aluminium, silver, platinum, iron and nickel, as well as rare materials like indium and palladium. These metals, as well as other material used in e-waste such as plastics, glass, wood and plywood, printed circuit boards, concrete and ceramics, rubber, steel and other items, were estimated to give approximately 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste generated globally in 2019, with a raw material value of approximately $57 billion USD. This shows that there are opportunities for WEEE to be recovered, recycled and sold as secondary raw materials, to further development of a viable circular economy.
In the Caribbean, however, there are limited mechanisms for the environmentally sound management of e-waste and material recovery for economic growth from this waste stream due to small economies of scale and a lack of legislation, infrastructure and institutional capacity for collection and dismantling activities.