Waste : Livelihoods: E-Waste: Peru
The average American household has 24 gadgets plugged in- from game consoles to computers to multiple TVs to tablets to mobile phones. In the U.S., consumers purchase over 34 million new TVs every year, 17 million new computer monitors and 43 million new laptops. What happens when we are finished using them? For most of us, the purchase of an electronic device relegates the older one to the guest room, the basement, or the curb. Mobile phones may disappear into a desk drawer or become your toddler’s new favorite toy. Most communities have electronics recycling collection days, but many people are still confused on how to recycle their devices, despite many years of governments’, manufacturers’, retailers’ and recyclers’ efforts to design the most cost effective way to collect, repurpose and safely recycle these products.
Within the last decade, cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs have became obsolete, replaced by razor thin LCD screens. Cold compact fluorescent lights (CCFLs) had a brief few years in the sun, only to be replaced now with far more efficient LEDs that do not contain mercury. Motherboards became lighter, thinner, smaller, and integrated circuits became almost microscopic. At the same time, the narrative of how different countries, especially non-industrialized ones, manage used electronics, hasn’t budged much, and concern over products being exported into countries that don’t have the infrastructure to safely dismantle and recycle electronics remains paramount. Many domestic collection programs pledge not to export containers of used products overseas. In parallel, policy makers and organizations around the world are working to build capacity in non-industrialized countries to repurpose and recycle electronics safely, recognizing that demand for scrap is high in countries with less advanced waste management and recycling infrastructure.
I wanted to see for myself what electronics reuse and recycling looks like on the ground today. I chose to visit Peru as a first stop because much attention on the flows of electronic scrap focuses on Africa and Asia, not Latin America. I also chose Peru because both the informal and formal sectors collect and process electronic scrap, it faces challenges in managing its solid waste, and it has a robust population and healthy consumer market where different income levels all typically have access to electronics devices. I sought to understand if lessons from Lima could help inform how countries with similar demographics can safely manage their used electronics and flows of e-scrap.