U.N. launches global partnership to combat unhealthy e-waste habits

Faced with an annual global gadget toss approaching 40 million tons, the United Nations has launched a partnership to battle the world’s heaps of e-waste and the environmental and health problems caused by impromptu e-recycling. Solving the E-Waste Problem, or StEP — which counts governments, universities, and 16 companies including Dell and Hewlett-Packard among its members — will aim to create a global electronics recycling standard and encourage companies to make longer-lasting products. With 80 percent of e-waste ending up in developing countries and often recycled by untrained, unprotected citizens, exposure to toxics like lead, arsenic, and mercury is high. European Union law requires companies to collect and dispose of electronics, and four U.S. states — Maine, Maryland, California, and Washington — also have some form of end-of-life legislation. But, says StEP head Ruediger Kuehr, “The global materials flow of electronic and electrical equipment requires a global approach.”