Bogota, 13 July 2017: Since 2009, commissioned by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), Empa, the World Resources Forum (WRF) and the Colombian National Cleaner Production Centre (CNPML) have supported the development of sustainable take-back and recycling systems for electronic waste in Colombia. On June 6, 2017, the Swiss Ambassador, Kurt Kunz, and Colombia’s Vice Minister of the Environment, Carlos Alberto Lopez Bogotero, praised the results of this collaboration at an event in Bogota. As a highlight of the event, the national policy for e-waste management has been launched.

In Colombia, around 250,000 tons of electrical and electronic waste are produced every year. This waste should be recycled in the correct way. In most South American countries and in other developing and emerging economies, this generally does not happen. Because e-waste contains valuable materials that can be recovered, in many places electrical devices are processed using the simplest tools and methods, such as hammers, pliers, or acid baths. In some cases, this causes considerable damage both to human health and to the environment. Thanks to the Sustainable Recycling Industries program, Colombia has now taken on a pioneering role in the recycling of e-waste in South America.

First e-waste policy in Latin America

Angel Camacho, Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible (MADS)

The Colombian e-waste Policy, presented by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, sets the strategy that the country will follow over the next 15 years in an integral management of e-waste by establishing four fundamental objectives: 1) consumer education towards responsible consumption, (2) the development of instruments to ensure that electrical and electronic equipment imported or produced in the country will be properly managed once they become waste, (3) the strengthening of the national recycling industry and , 4) the promotion of public private partnerships. In his presentation of the the policy Angel Camacho of the Ministry highlighted the innovative and inclusive process, which had been applied to develop the policy over the past 5 years. “This policy is fundamental for any future development in this sector and crucial to clearly define the responsibilities of all actors”, said Vice minister Carlos Alberto Lopez Bogotero. Mathias Schluep of the World Resources Forum and global SRI program coordinator praised the uniqueness of the policy, Colombia being the first country in Latin America to present a long term strategy for sustainable e-waste management. Andrea Lopez, who was leading the policy development process for MADS added, that “this policy is a contribution to the development of public policies in Latin America, thanks to its formulation and design process with a systemic approach”.

Only Winners

The e-waste recycling cooperation with Colombia started in 2009. Together with public sector partners such as the Colombian Ministry of Environment, and private partners such as the National Industrial Association (ANDI), the legal, organizational, and technical principles were developed in order to establish take-back and recycling schemes for used electrical and electronic devices. This offers ecological, economic, and social benefits for the entire country. It does not only create jobs and generate economic activity, because recyclable materials can be removed more efficiently and thus the processes can be made more cost-effective: it also protects the environment from the consequences of incorrect recycling and uncontrolled disposal. “The implementation of a take-back system for electrical waste is a project which really only has winners,” says Heinz Böni of Empa’s Technology and Society Lab.

Among other activities, vocational training teachers in Colombia have received a train-the-trainers training in order that they can train their students to become active in this newly-emerging economic sector. The SRI program has also contributed to the formation of an e-waste recyclers association (ACORAEE), which demonstrated how recyclers are persistently developing into a professional industry branch. Laura Reyes of the Belmont Trading Group stressed the importance of being organised in an association for making sure that the needs and concerns were heard during the policy development process.

In parallel to the project in Colombia, a similar project was supported in Peru. More projects are under development in Ghana, India, Egypt and South Africa.