Transboundary E-waste

From Statements to Debates: Meta-Issues on the Web

Four interlinked meta-issues emerged as central debates related to the statement used to initiate the controversy mapping process. Below, we provide a brief synopsis of the four meta-issues identified in the corpus, and outline controversial topics actors debated within each meta-issue.

Issue 1: How much e-waste is exported from “developed” to “developing” countries?

This meta-issue encompasses two central points of contention. The first argues what percent of e-waste generated in“developed” countries is exported to “developing” countries. Contested studies focus primarily on the reliability and methods used to quantify North-South e-waste trade, and use U.S e-waste movement as an illustrative case exemplifying international patterns of e-waste trade. The second point of contention disputes the functionality of e-waste exported to “developing” countries, and whether it should be categorized as “waste” or “non-waste”. This question feeds into broader debates of whether or not e-waste is “dumped” in developing countries or is shipped as functional electronics that can either be reused or repaired.


Issue 2: Should e-waste be exported from “developed” to “developing” countries?

The second meta-issue identified in the corpus debated whether or not e-waste should be exported from “developed” to “developing” countries by analyzing the various merits and drawbacks of both existing North-South e-waste trade and hypothetical trade reforms. Arguments within this debate discuss the environmental and public health risks of e-waste disposal, the economic and ecological efficiencies of e-waste trade, the social benefits and costs to regions importing e-waste, regulatory challenges, threats to national security, and ethical considerations of e-waste exportation.


Issue 3: How to regulate e-waste export from “developed” to “developing” countries?

The third meta-issue debates policies to regulate North-South e-waste trade. A dominant theme underpinning this debate is the overwhelming challenge of regulating North-South e-waste trade considering the logistical challenges of manually inspecting mixed cargo loads of e-waste and establishing harmonized international regulations. Other contested topics include whether or not regulation should be mandatory or voluntary and what constitutes e-waste intended for repair/reuse vs. e-waste intended for dismantling and disposal.


Issue 4: How to implement EPR as a national e-waste management solution?

The fourth identified meta-issue debated how to structure and implement national e-waste management via extended producer responsibility (EPR) to, ideally, design environmentally-friendly products and establish infrastructure for the collection and recycling of end-of-life electronics. The most hotly debated aspect of this issue is who should finance e-waste recycling and how it should be structured, contesting responsibilities of producers, municipalities, and consumers. Other debated issues of EPR management include: how to incorporate Design for Toxic Reduction (DfTR) and/or Design for Reuse (DfR) into EPR policies, how to manage historic and orphaned e-waste, how to create an equitable job market recycling domestic e-waste, whether collective or individual producer responsibility is best, whether mandatory regulation or voluntary guidelines is best, and whether recycling fees should be paid in advance or at the end of life and if these fees should be hidden or visible.

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