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FEATURE STORY

Sustainable e-waste management, key for future protection of Brazil’s environment

February 4, 2013


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A printer is disassembled at Oxil, a Sao Paulo-based recycling company: e-waste production in Brazil is projected to increase to 8kg/year/inhabitant in 2015, from the current 6.5kg/year/inhabitant.

Estre Ambiental/Handout.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A World Bank report analyzes the environmental, health, and economic impacts caused by inappropriate disposal of electronic waste in the country.
  • The study was carried out after Brazil’s government enacted a policy on waste management. A sectorial agreement is still needed to ensure the legislation will be properly implemented.
  • Demand for electronic devices – which further generate e-waste – is expected to keep rising as Brazil gears up for the 2014 World Cup and other events.

Brazilians became the 10th biggest tablet buyers in the world in 2012. In the third quarter alone, sales topped almost 770,000, a 127% increase compared with the same period in 2011. Demand for smartphones is on the rise too: 4.2 million were sold in the country over these three months according to IDC, a global technology consultancy.

But, as consumption booms – especially among Brazil’s emerging middle class –, so does the risk that these gadgets are inappropriately disposed when they become worn out or obsolete.

“The appliances release toxic chemicals in the environment, and contaminate the air, water and land,” explains Vanda Scartezini, one of the authors of a World Bank report on Brazil’s electronic waste. “These substances, such as mercury and lead, may as well cause health problems among waste pickers and other people.”

The study, Wasting no Opportunity – The Case for Managing Brazil’s Electronic Waste, does more than analyze the risk of greater environmental impacts in the years to come. It also shows how strategic and yet sensitive this subject is for national companies.

Collection and processing

It is relevant because e-waste production in Brazil is projected to increase to 8kg/year/inhabitant in 2015, from the current 6.5kg/year/inhabitant.

“Events such as the 2014 World Cup and the new oil drills at the pre-salt layers will generate an even bigger demand for electronic devices,” says Scartezini. 

A recent United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report highlighted Brazil, together with Mexico and Senegal, as already “generating more e-waste per capita from personal computers than the other surveyed countries.”

In addition, e-waste management could create a significant number of high-quality jobs in Brazil, according to the study. “Brazil should focus on collection and initial processing of electronic waste, including segregation, crushing and disassembly (…); these activities have the best outcome per investment in terms of job creation and environmental impact”, say the authors.

Finding ways to sustainably manage the electronic waste is also necessary because Brazil aims to eliminate all landfills in this decade.


" In almost every house and every company there’s still a room where old electronics gather dust, and people still have no idea of what to do with them. "

Lucas Veloso

Reverse manufacturing manager at Oxil, a Sao Paulo-based recycling company.

Gathering dust

The report, requested by the Ministry of Science and Technology of Brazil (MCT), was released a few months after the federal government enacted a national policy on waste management. An agreement – currently underway – between the State and Brazil’s electronics industry will enable the implementation of the law. And this is where the subject gets sensitive.

“It’s hard to define a single standard for collection and processing when there is such a broad array of products generating e-waste,” explains Ademir Brescansin, socio environmental responsibility manager at ABINEE, Brazil’s Association for Electronic Industry.

“Besides, there are still a few recycling companies, and they are not equally distributed across the territory, which makes transport costs high,” he adds. In spite of the difficulties, Brazilian government and companies established a 2014 deadline to reach an agreement, set up recycling targets, and start taking concrete measures.

“Several global enterprises are already acting up and have their own recycling policies, but there’s more to be done,” says Lucas Veloso, who manages the reverse manufacturing department at Oxil, a Sao Paulo-based recycling company. “In almost every house and every company there’s still a room where old electronics gather dust, and people still have no idea of what to do with them.”


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