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Electronic waste, or ‘e-waste’, has become a significant international environmental enforcement challenge.  Each year, hundreds of thousands of used electronic items – containing highly toxic substances like lead, mercury and cadmium – are shipped across the world.

Some provinces, like B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, have e-waste recycling programs to encourage residents to get rid of used electronics in an environmentally responsible manner.  Canada has also stepped up enforcement of its regulations on the export of used electronics. However, large amounts of e-waste continue to be exported to developing nations, where they are highly in demand as sources of valuable raw materials and for conversion to other products. However, poor environmental standards in the receiving countries often lead to pollution when the electronics are dismantled or burned.

Actions to strengthen transboundary e-waste enforcement across North America are now underway.  From August 16-17, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) Council met in Guanajuato, Mexico for their 17th annual meeting.  The Council presented the proposed Strategic Plan 2010-2015 which sets forth three new priorities that will ensure the protection of North America’s shared environment:

  1. Healthy Communities and Ecosystems;
  2. Climate Change – Low-Carbon Economy; and
  3. Greening the Economy in North America.

Managing the movement of used electronics and other e-wastes falls under the third priority.  With help from the Hazardous Waste Tracking System (HWTS), the CEC has begun to develop technology to improve their ability to detect and restrain illegal trades of electronic waste in North America.

Paper-based tracking systems were originally used, but struggled to succeed due to delays in sending export requests and consent documents.

Under the new system, governments will be able to more quickly and effectively provide data to enforcement officials.

Jessica Yuan and Dianne Saxe

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