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Ever wondered what happens to your outmoded cell phone when you replace it with the latest model? Or where a battery goes when you toss it in the trash? Around the world, end-of-life electronics that are waste, also known as e-waste, present a significant challenge for our environment and our health. Together with Brazilian bank Itaú Unibanco, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we’re asking the OpenIDEO community to help us find ways to manage e-waste to better safeguard human health and protect our environment.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, in 2012 global spending on electronics is expected to surpass US$1 trillion 1. As use of these electronics increases around the world, the question of how to properly manage them when consumers are finished with them becomes more urgent. Unfortunately, not enough of our electronics are re-used, recycled or refurbished. Too many of them end up directly in landfills or recovered in an unsafe manner. According to the UN Environmental Programme, some 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste are generated worldwide every year, with mobile phones and televisions contributing 10 million tons per year by 2015 2.

E-waste presents complex issues with many factors to consider, one of them being the environmental impact of hazardous substances and toxic chemicals – including lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury. The great news is that many of the materials used in consumer electronics can be recycled or refurbished to be used in other electronics. The opportunity is to find better ways to manage our used and end-of-life electronics and avoid them ending up in landfills.

Rio+20: A Global Stage

In June 2012 world leaders from government, the private sector, NGOs and other global institutions will join together in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – an historic event to define new approaches for reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development. The event, Rio+20, will serve as the launching pad for our challenge and, we hope, will spark international conversation around the issues of technology, global connectedness and responsible use and reuse of consumer electronics. Read more.

Together we can uncover and design solutions to better enable all of us to reuse or recycle our electronic gadgets and tech tools. Check out our Guiding Principles for this challenge.

1. Emoto, Ayaka. "E-Waste Generates Additional Revenues for Consumer Electronic Retailers." Triple Pundit.May 31, 2012.
2. United Nations Environmental Programme. "Recycling – From E-Waste to Resources." 2009.

About Itaú Unibanco

In 2008, two of the leading banks in Brazil merged to create an even bigger and stronger bank, Itaú Unibanco Holding. Today, Itaú is the largest Latin American bank and one of the ten largest banks¹ on the planet, with over 104,000 employees and operations in 19 countries throughout the Americas, Asia and Europe. We believe that in order to sustain our business, we must also deliver long-lasting value to everyone involved. In 2011, Itaú's social and cultural investments added up to more than $156 million and in 2011 we were included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the twelfth consecutive year. Learn more.

Our Challenge Partners

The U.S. Department of State

The Department of State is the lead U.S. foreign affairs agency within the Executive Branch and the lead institution for the conduct of American diplomacy. Established by Congress in 1789, the Department is the oldest and most senior executive agency of the U.S. Government. The head of the Department, the Secretary of State, is the President’s principal foreign policy advisor. The Secretary carries out the President’s foreign policies through the State Department and the Foreign Service of the United States. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Department of State implements U.S. foreign policy worldwide. The Department of State promotes and protects the interests of American citizens by:

  • Promoting peace and stability in regions of vital interest;
  • Creating jobs at home by opening markets abroad;
  • Helping developing nations establish investment and export opportunities; and
  • Bringing nations together and forging partnerships to address global problems such as terrorism, the spread of communicable diseases, cross-border pollution, humanitarian crises, nuclear smuggling, and narcotics trafficking. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress. Proposed by President Richard Nixon, the EPA began operation on December 2, 1970. The Agency is currently led by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who was appointed by President Obama and approved by Congress. More than half of EPA employees are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists; other groups include legal, public affairs, financial, and information technologists. These employees conduct environmental assessments, research, and education on environmental and human health issues. The agency also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts. Learn more

Community & Social Media Manager

 Meena Kadri 

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Photo of Huimin Lai

A major issue is we expect to still pay pennies for our electronics and we dont want to pay more tohave it safely recycled from the get go. China is a major manufacturer but what happens to the waste? Not only that we create waste inmanufacturing from lack of funds in quality control. It is good to recycle after the fact but what about in the process?

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