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How do we know e-waste? Electronic discards and the double social life of trade statistics.
Another important genre of knowing e-waste is the use of trade statistics. In a forthcoming paper (Lepawsky, 2014) I describe some of the key difficulties in measuring the international trade and traffic of e-waste using such data so that I can then go on and map their patterns (see here and here). I'll summarize those difficulties, but hold in the back of your mind that adjective 'international'. It might have rolled by you without much of a thought, but, as we'll see in a moment, when we're thinking about the social life of methods it is a little piece of language that turns out to be highly significant.
The difficulties for measuring the international trade and traffic of e-waste are many, but can be summarized as follows:
- There is no universally agreed upon definition of e-waste.
- No existing international trade data directly distinguishes between new and used electronics.
- Illicit and other forms of unrecorded or misrecorded trade aren't captured in trade data.