The Entrepreneur's Guide to Computer Recycling: Basics for starting up a computer recycling business in emerging markets
PC Recycling Guide
Social and Environmental Challenges

Under its Strategic Plan adopted in 2002, Parties to the Basel Convention have identified used and end-of-use electronic equipment as a “priority waste stream”. This higher profile has promoted a number of WEEE-focused initiatives under the Convention, such as the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative (MPPI), a private-public partnership addressing the environmentally sound management of used and end-of-use mobile phones. At the G8 level, Japan’s proposed “3Rs Initiative”, which explores options for recycling of used equipment and materials, particularly in Asia, is gaining in importance in this connection. At the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP), held in late November 2006 in Nairobi, the Parties adopted the Ministerial Declaration on e-waste (known as the “Nairobi Declaration on the Environmentally Sound Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste”) and a formal COP Decision on e-waste, establishing the priority e-waste management issues for governments and other stakeholders, calling for the development of a work plan on e-waste for the next biennium. Future partnerships may include a Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE), which could address the development of recycling guidelines and pilot projects for shipments to pre-certified recycling facilities. In addition, the Parties are considering a series of options raised under the aegis of the MPPI to address issues and ambiguities associated with the classification and management of mobile phones for the purpose of facilitating increased collection and the environmentally sound management of mobile phones.

Formal versus informal recycling practices

Certain recycling processes, including shredding, grinding, burning and melting of components, may release harmful fumes or dust that, when emitted or leached into the soil, can have harmful health and environmental impacts. In many developing countries, an informal network of waste processors employs techniques such as open burning, without adequate safety protocols necessary to protect workers’ health. Moreover, recycling is often done at or near waste dumps which are not equipped to prevent harmful leaching into soil and groundwater. By definition, the “informal” network of waste processors is not regulated, and so it has proven to be difficult for many countries to monitor harmful practices and implement controls to protect workers’ health and the environment.

Modern recycling facilities are equipped with technologies that can handle these processes with minimal risks to the environment and worker health, while also ensuring the added environmental benefit of optimal recovery of materials. These treatment methods, however, are expensive and lend themselves to economies of scale. Financial constraints for electronics recycling, both in terms of the quantity of available recyclable material and profit margins, will prevent the construction and operation of a state-of-the-art facility in all countries. It is therefore often necessary to move certain materials to countries having the capacity to provide environmentally sound management. A challenge facing many countries is how to develop an appropriate framework to ensure that the materials that cannot be managed by the informal sector in an environmentally sound manner are sent to countries with the capacity to do so in a way that is attractive and profitable to all stakeholders.


In developing countries, informal sector businesses often import containers of ICT equipments of variable quality. Some equipment may not be suitable for repair, refurbishment and reuse. These containers often come from donations or large secondhand sales, and importers have limited means of controlling the quality of this equipment. Imports of equipment not suitable for reuse can increase the challenge of ensuring environmentally sound management and may present added risks to human health and the environment.