In a new white paper titled, ‘Facilitating Trade Along Circular Electronics Value Chains,’ the World Economic Forum (WEF) has reviewed the role of trade in moving to a more circular economy for the electronics industry.
The white paper, which was published on 18 September 2020, looks at trade-related challenges to reverse supply chains for circular electronics, emphasizing that it is possible to use technology to improve lives while limiting harmful improper and unnecessary disposal. The authors explore trade policy solutions, including international agreement between governments, bilateral regulatory pilot projects, and public‑private initiatives.
The role that electronics play in economies and societies has become even more critical during the COVID‑19 pandemic, as they have allowed many types of work to continue by connecting workers. However, many electronics still end up in the environment or are recycled in an unsafe manner. The 2020 issue of the UN’s Global E‑Waste Monitor finds that, in 2019, 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste were generated, with around 82% likely not collected and managed in an environmentally sound manner.
Challenges highlighted in the briefing note relate to: complexities of product classifications; factors leading to increases in reverse logistic costs for used products and those characterized as hazardous; and cumbersome trade‑permitting processes, particularly for products classified as hazardous. For example, reverse logistics for used electronic products were reportedly 31% more costly than outbound logistics for new products, and delays of up to 14 months for completing paperwork on hazardous products are common.
Describing solutions or potential trade facilitation actions, the paper highlights border and internal measures, transparency on domestic requirements for waste classification and movement, and policy actions including international trade instruments and regulatory cooperation between countries. For example, when electronic products are classified as hazardous under the Basel Convention, or domestically, they can face trade bans and, if transboundary movement is permitted, are subject to prior informed consent (PIC) from the import and transit countries.
The Convention’s focus on risky trade could be complemented by measures to facilitate responsible trade for the circular economy. For example, trade facilitation capacity building could help digitalize and automate the PIC procedure, and regulatory cooperation could involve fast-track systems for permits or longer validity periods.
The paper is part of a series on trade and the circular economy. A July 2020 paper in the series considers cross‑border issues in the circular economy and plastic pollution.
The briefing note is expected to contribute to a broader report on circular electronics pathways, to be released in January 2021. [Publication: Facilitating Trade Along Circular Electronics Value Chains]