The modalities of export and import of used electronics, especially from developed to developing countries, are a hotly debated topic in relevant policy and industry circles. So far, there is no politically accepted way of “preventing the illegal while supporting the legal” when it comes to used electronics exports. The big questions is, how can policy promote safe and legitimate refurbishment or recycling around the globe, and at the same time prevent illicit and environmentally unsound exports of hazardous electronics to poor countries under the guise of recycling?
A way to achieve this double objective is urgently needed, yet no real attempt is currently being made to find it. Instead, the discussion is essentially limited to an emotionally charged debate on the pros and cons of a blanket export ban on used electronics from OECD to non-OECD countries. Some argue in favour, seeing it as the only way to put a stop to illicit exports of used electronics to developing countries – not offering ways to avoid negative effects on legitimate trade. Others argue against, pointing out the damage to legitimate environmentally sound operations that can help create jobs and protect the environment – not offering ways of preventing the “dirty business”.
Personally, I am convinced that the win-win solution exists, although I do not know yet what it will look like. Might it be identified and developed if we could create a non-contentious setting for structured discussion among stakeholders committed to “preventing the illegal while supporting the legal” – a setting not designed to advocate a particular course of action, but to draw on the collective needs, expertise and creativity of its members to develop the win-win solution?