Potential for GIS in E-waste

(Written by Intro to GIS student, B. W.)

Electronic waste, or E-waste, is an important emerging problem in the developing world as the rapid changes in electronic technologies have made it easy, affordable and preferable for the people of the Western world to keep buying the “renewable” and “better” electronics. This waste has resulted in a new industry, “E-waste recycling“. Illegal e-waste trades between “recyclers” and brokers have lead to the exporting of the Western World’s e-waste to developing countries such as Asia. causing serious environmental and health hazards in poor local communities, due to the hazardous nature of the components in electronics 4. In fact, 50-80 percent of the waste generated a year in the US finds itself in poor Asian communities, due to many loopholes in governmental policies that have been encouraging this harmful exporting industry.

The ITU has recently proposed a project to improve the living conditions for locals based on changing e-wastes streams, enhancing resource protection, reducing health risks, and improving their economic situation:

The project is producing a knowledge base on e-waste recycling in developing and transition countries published in the form of an e-waste guide as an interactive Website. Furthermore, the project is producing feasibility reports on improvements in sustainable e-waste recycling schemes in three pre-selected regions in order to select one region for detailed planning and implementation of an improved e-waste recycling system and to validate the guide and underpin it with concrete examples.

I believe that GIS holds great potential for this project. Non-profit organizations could assist locals from poor Asian communities that work in the e-waste “recycling” sector, to geolocate the major dumping areas and create attributes (e.g., soil contamination levels, water contamination levels, and harmful “recycling activities”). Various kinds of analyses could be conducted. For example, locations of sites could be compared to locations of sensitive facilities such as schools and hospitals, with the hopes that either the toxic sites or the sensitive facilities could be moved if one was too close to the other. The Basel Action Network (BAN) conducted an investigation in Guiyu, one of the large recycling centers in China, and discovered serious health and environmental problems in the region. BAN discovered similar problems in other recycling centers in Pakistan and India and suspects that many other sites exist but are kept secret. With GIS, this project could track and then reveal to the world the secret harm of this exportation to the developing world and potentially force governments to strengthen their rules on the export of E-waste.

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