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Getting e-waste on the agenda in Macedonia

By Haley Bowcock

Cranes litter the skyline here in Skopje, giving at least the appearance of transformation (see Macedonia: Online Rebellion Against “Skopje 2014” Plan). But one transformation I and my colleages here would definitely like to see is one to the city’s – and the country’s – approach to e-waste management.

I’m in Skopje to meet colleagues of the Macedonian contingent of the Balkans E-Waste Management Advocacy Network (BEWMAN), which also includes Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria, and also to get an overview the e-waste situation in the country. Thursday was the kick-off meeting for the Macedonian Network – there will be similar for the other countries.

End-of-life electronics – or e-waste – represent a big challenge for governments worldwide; Macedonia is not exception.

Indeed, the challenges abound here: there is very little awareness about the threats to the environment and public health of this growing waste stream and there are little to no options for safe end-of-life management. In fact, there are no reliable data to indicate how much actual or pending e-waste is out there in Macedonian homes, businesses and public institutions.

So, what to do? We have learnt from experiences in the EU and elsewhere is that proper e-waste management needs at least the following:

  • The existence of a ‘recycling’ culture (or at the very least a public that is aware of the e-waste issue and is motivated to do something about it)
  • A legal framework provided by nation states that outlines responsibilities amongst the many stakeholders in the ‘e-waste chain’ – producers, retailers, municipalities and other governmental bodies, waste management companies and consumers
  • Producers that take financial responsibility for the collection and treatment of their own products when they become waste
  • Good collection networks that consumers can take their end-of-life electronics to with minimum effort
  • Strong enforcement mechanisms, so that e-waste doesn’t find its way to unsafe treatment routes

Setting up something similar in Macedonia will require a lot of awareness-raising, cooperation and knowledge-sharing amongst the many stakeholders involved in e-waste management. It will also require more information about the local situation, and about what experiences and best practices elsewhere (particularly the EU) can teach Macedonia on its journey to good e-waste management. This is what is so great about BEWMAN; it will bring a lot of this to the table.

The Macedonian network took a giant leap in this direction yesterday, when we were invited (with the help of NDI) to provide a policy briefing at a session of the Macedonia Assembly’s Commission of Transport, Communication and the Environment. The room was full – 15 MPs, a handful of representatives of the Ministry of the Environment, plus other people interested in the issue. It was very encouraging to have such a big turn-out.

We set out for attendees the issue of e-waste, and how it is being approached in the EU (through the Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment – the ‘WEEE Directive’). We also set out for them some key areas for considerations for Macedonia’s approach to e-waste management, and what BEWMAN will be doing to drive the issue forward.

While there remains a lot to do, I think that after yesterday, we can well and truly say that e-waste has been put higher up on the agenda in Macedonia. Watch this space…

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