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.