Problems and challenges facing WEEE management in Latin America

Problemática y retos de la gestión de los RAEE en América Latina

The exponential development of technology in recent decades has resulted in the accumulation of electronic waste. This type of waste is growing faster than any other worldwide. When Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is not adequately managed, it pollutes the environment and in this context of growth, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean are no exception. Awareness of this problem gives rise to the central theme of this article.

The increase in waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in the region is unquestionable. United Nations University figures indicate that WEEE will grow by 17.5% in the next few years, from 4.22 kilotons in 2012 to 4.96 kilotons in 2015. In terms of production, Brazil stands out with a figure of over 1600 kilotons, followed by Mexico with 1200 kilotons and Argentina with around 500 kilotons. According to the same source, 50 million tonnes of WEEE were generated in 2012.

Owing to the increased use of mobile technology, this figure will rise to 57 million tonnes by 2015, of which 9%, or 5 million tonnes, will correspond to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Latin America, the formal recycling of WEEE is a relatively new activity and is mostly limited to dismantling. In countries such as Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Brazil, traditional metal recycling companies have discovered the WEEE recycling market2. However, the quantities recycled are still modest because the political framework and the logistics infrastructure do not enable the recycling of larger volumes.

For WEEE recycling to be profitable, after covering the costs of international shipping to refining plants, recyclers need to collect significant quantities of reusable or saleable materials. The capacity to collect large quantities is what defines the WEEE business.

Article published in: FuturENVIRO December 2014