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Formal Versus Informal Recycling Practices

Formal Versus Informal Recycling Practices

Certain recycling processes, including shredding, grinding, burning and melting of components, may release harmful fumes or dust that, when emitted or leached into the soil, can have harmful health and environmental impacts. In many developing countries, an informal network of waste processors employs techniques such as open burning, without adequate safety protocols necessary to protect workers’ health. Moreover, recycling is often done at or near waste dumps which are not equipped to prevent harmful leaching into soil and groundwater. By definition, the “informal” network of waste processors is not regulated, and so it has proven to be difficult for many countries to monitor harmful practices and implement controls to protect workers’ health and the environment.

Modern recycling facilities are equipped with technologies that can handle these processes with minimal risks to the environment and worker health,while also ensuring the added environmental benefit of optimal recovery of materials. These treatment methods, however, are expensive and lend themselves to economies of scale. Financial constraints for electronics recycling, both in terms of the quantity of available recyclable material and profit margins, will prevent the construction and operation of a state of-the-art facility in all countries. It is therefore often necessary to move certain materials to countries having the capacity to provide environmentally sound management. A challenge facing many countries is how to develop an appropriate framework to ensure that the materials that cannot be managed by the informal sector in an environmentally sound manner are sent to countries with the capacity to do so in a way that is attractive and profitable to all stakeholders.


In developing countries, informal sector businesses often import containers of ICT equipments of variable quality. Some equipment may not be suitable for repair, refurbishment and reuse. These containers often come from donations or large secondhand sales, and importers have limited means of controlling the quality of this equipment. Imports of equipment not suitable for reuse can increase the challenge of ensuring environmentally sound management and may present added risks to human health and the environment.