Linking Informal and Formal Electronics Recycling via an Interface Organization

Volume (Issue): 2013, 4(2)

Informal recycling of electronics in the developing world has emerged as a new global environmental concern. The primary approach to address this problem has been command-and-control policies that ban informal recycling and international trade in electronic scrap. These bans are difficult to enforce and also have negative effects by reducing reuse of electronics, and employment for people in poverty. An alternate approach is to link informal and formal sectors so as to maintain economic activity while mitigating environmental damages. This article explores the idea of an interface organization that purchases components and waste from informal dismantlers and passes them on to formal processors. Environmental, economic and social implications of interface organizations are discussed. The main environmental questions to resolve are what e-scrap components should be targeted by the interface organization, i.e., circuit boards, wires, and/or plastic parts. Economically, when formal recycling is more profitable (e.g., for circuit boards), the interface organization is revenue positive. However, price subsidies are needed for copper wires and residual waste to incentivize informal dismantlers to turn in for formal processing. Socially, the potential for corruption and gaming of the system is critical and needs to be addressed.