Electronic waste - Risk assessment

Code:

N5-0073

Period:

1.2.2018 - 30.1.2020

Range on year:

1.00 FTE | 0

Head:

viš.znan.sod.dr. Jennie Kristina Olofsson

Research activity:

5.03.00 Social sciences

The phases of the project and their realization:

In order to achieve the desired impact of this proposed research project, the work plan was divided in three objectives and three WPs. Each WP had one deliverable. WP1 addressed the political, social and environmental discourses that precondition the development of risk assessments and policy documents that govern e-waste management today. Included tasks were 1) close readings of current risk assessments and policy documents, for example the WEEE directive and the Basel Convention, 2) semi-structured interviews, first and foremost with policy-makers, and 3) establish contacts with future informants. WP2 employed an ethnographic approach as it investigates how risk assessments and policy documents are interpreted and realized in the everyday work of national actors such as municipalities, NGOs and electronic waste recycling plants. Included tasks were 1) semi-structured interviews, 2) accompanying observation and, ultimately, 3) focus group discussions. WP3 took a comparative approach on the findings from objective a) and b), focusing on their inter-relatedness. WP3 was also responsible for formulating suggestions for development and/or revision of future policy documents and risk assessments that govern e-waste management, thus ensuring long-term effects of this proposed research project. Included tasks were 1) joint reading of the results from WP1 and WP2 and 2) communication with media. WP1: to explore the motives and preconditions for the development of risk assessments and policy documents that govern e-waste management. During the time of WP1 (between February, 2018 until November, 2018), focus was primarily on familiarizing myself with the Slovenian waste management system, as well as the EU regulations that steer this system. Soon after embarking on this project, I realized that management of e-waste is intimately linked to waste management in general. Hence, for the purposes of this research project, it has been necessary to attain a basic understanding of relevant stakeholders, areas of responsibility as well as the implementation of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). Collection of material thus started earlier than anticipated and resulted in the article ‘The biggest challenge is that we have to tell people how to sort.’ Waste Management and the Processes of Negotiation of Environmental Citizenship in Slovenia (Article 1) that will be published in the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning. During WP1, I talked to representatives for the Slovenian Ministry for Environment and Spatial Planning, and I also met with the former chair of the parliament in Slovenia besides the former minister for environment. I visited several municipal waste collecting companies, but also waste facility plants, recycling centers, an incinerator as well as facilities for treatment of waste fractions such as plastics, e-waste and graveside candles. I also interviewed one representative for a Slovenian NGO, which focus is on improving the state of the environment. In addition to the above-mentioned interviews and visits, and zooming in, particularly on e-waste, I interviewed representatives from some of the collection schemes for e-waste. I also contacted the WEEE forum: a non-profit association of producer compliance schemes for e-waste to attain further information on the actual regulations that steer e-waste management in the EU. Focus has been on national and European regulations for waste management. Apart from interviewing representatives of municipal waste collecting companies, interviews were also conducted with representatives of twelve different companies in Slovenia and in Sweden. The interviews were pursued together with Prof. Franc Mali, and the companies come from different sectors: the mining industry, production and distribution of electrical and electronic goods and services, collection and/or management of electronic waste and stationary batteries, as well as reparation of obsolete electronics. What they share is their engagement in the circular economy and/or sustainability concept. While not mentioned in the outline of WP1, the circular economy concept provides an important perspective through which we were able to approach e-waste. Due to our engagement in this concept, I have also had the opportunity to re-establish connections with some of my Swedish colleagues, who also work with the concept. The interviews were conducted from the late spring of 2018 until the early spring of 2019. The focus was on each company’s work with respect to implementing the concept of circular economy, particularly as regards electronic goods and services as well as obsolete electronics. The interviews were pursued together with Prof. Franc Mali, and our findings were initially presented at the annual SSTNET meeting in Ljubljana, in October, 2018, and later on published in the article From risk to resource? E-waste management and the concept of circular economy (Article 2). This article is also part of the thematic section of the journal Teorija in Praksa where Prof. Mali and I acted as guest editors. The name of this thematic section is Acknowledging the concept of risk in recent sociological analyses. In the editorial Critical engagement vs. technophobia: The risks of emerging technologies, we address the concept of risk in relation to the progression of science and technology (Article 3). The findings of the interviews that were conducted with representatives of twelve different companies in Slovenia and in Sweden have also resulted in the planned submission of the manuscript Practices of the circular economy – Framing organizations as authentic (Planned submission). WP2: to study the national implementation of some of these risk assessments and policy documents. While this project has engaged in e-waste, the ethnographic fieldwork, which started in the beginning of March, 2019 and ended by the end of September, 2019 zoomed in on graveside candles, and more specifically electronic graveside candle. Slovenia is one of Europe’s largest consumer of graveside candles. Appr. 15 million graveside candles are put on the market each year. The large amount has led to graveside candles currently being covered by the EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility), something that is unique for Slovenia; while countries such as Austria and Poland are big consumers of graveside candles, no other country in the European Union has an EPR on graveside candles. The EPR requires graveside candles to be disposed of, and collected separately in containers that are located on the cemeteries in Slovenia. An approximate of 10 percent of the graveside candles is electronic graveside candles. Saying this, according to Slovenian regulations, electronic graveside candles do not comprise their own fraction. Instead, they are part of the larger fraction graveside candles, and as such, they are also disposed of in the same containers as paraffin candles. Electronic graveside candles severely complicate the recycling process of graveside candles as they require manual disassembly, a most time-consuming undertaking. Also, electronic graveside candles generate huge amount of waste as they cannot be recycled to the same extent as paraffin candles. As electronic graveside candles are lighter than paraffin candles, they also contain weights to prevent them from tilting or being blown away. The material used as weights varies: from plaster to stones, to sand, to iron rods, to metal spirals. Not only does this require rigorous manual disassembly; it also generates huge amounts of waste. Concurrent to the ethnographical fieldwork, and as a means to expand my knowledge on the policies and practices that surround waste management of graveside candles, I have also pursued interviews with three producers of graveside candles, and a representative of the Slovenian Ministry for Environment and Spatial Planning (ARSO). During the latter part of my fieldwork, I have also engaged in phone conversations with the representative of ARSO. In order to understand the symbolic/religious meaning of graveside candles, I have also interviewed two representatives of the Catholic church. The findings from these interviews added complexity to the problems that surround graveside candles as they showed that the status of graveside candles as symbolic objects contribute to the management of their material residues. The findings of the ethnographic fieldwork have resulted in the submission of the manuscript Gender, space and sound: Auditory skills, mobile and stationary bodies (Submission 1) to the journal Ethnography. During WP2, I also collaborated with my co-mentor, Prof. Milica Antic Gaber regarding the spread of the #metoo campaign in Sweden and Slovenia. This collaboration took the form of a couple of workshops during the spring of 2019, where we, together with interested PhD students of the Faculty of Philosophy, engaged in joint writing exercises. Focus for these exercises included a) the distinction between private and public spheres, b) the role of media and social media and c) silence and willfulness. This collaboration also resulted in the development of the co-authored chapter Attempts at understanding the #jaztudi and #metoo campaigns in Slovenia and in Sweden: between silence and willfulness (Chapter). Here, Dr. Nina Perger joined us as one of the co-auhors. The chapter was published in the book/conference proceeding Znanost in Družbe Prihodnosti [Science and Society of the Future]. WP3: to - based on the results of objective a and b - identify discrepancies between the increasing generation of e-waste, regulations to manage this increase and their subsequent implementation. Concurrent to the ethnographic fieldwork, I commenced the work of identifying potential discrepancies between the amount of graveside candles put on the Slovenian market, the national regulation that steer the waste management of their material residues, and its implementation. Findings from the ethnographic fieldwork and the interviews comprised a solid point of departure for the subsequent formulation of a written document, where I suggested that a) the design of electronic graveside candles should be standardized and b) that electronic graveside candles should be classified as electronic waste rather than e-waste. This document was submitted to all four collection schemas of graveside candles in Slovenia and to the representative of ARSO. I received replies from two of the collection schemes and from the representative of ARSO. While the replies were positive, no concrete measures have, at the time of writing, been taken by these actors. Saying this, the connections established during the interviews and the ethnographic fieldwork have resulted in an awareness of the research project, not only from the collection schemas for graveside candles, but also from other stakeholders. During the autumn of 2019, I was contacted by one of the collection schemes regarding collaboration in a potential future project. In November, 2019, I was also invited as a speaker to ZEOS international conference Changing People’s Waste Management Habits. ZEOS is a Slovenian collecting scheme for packaging, electronic waste and graveside candles. In addition, and as a result of my participation in this conference, I have also been contacted by ZAG: the Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute. In December, 2019, we had a meeting regarding construction, and industrial waste, and at the time of writing, we are searching for joint projects. During the autumn of 2019, I was also contacted by a representative of a Swedish company, which develops optical systems. This company is interested in design for reuse and recycling, which is complicated by the factor that many of their products, as they enter their afterlife, are classified as e-waste. At the time of writing, this contact has resulted in an initial gathering of additional stakeholders within academia and the industry for potential future collaborations, for instance in terms of joint research applications. Towards the end of January, 2020, I pursued yet another interview with the representative of ARSO. Here I had the chance to pose questions that emerged during the interviews with representatives of the collecting schemas and the companies producing graveside candles, but also from the ethnographic fieldwork. In the project proposal, I suggested that Science and Technology Studies (S&TS) and feminist methodologies might comprise a suitable combination for addressing questions regarding electronic waste. While this combination has served the purposes of this research project, I have also had the opportunity to hone in on discard studies and gender studies as perhaps an even more suitable combination for approaching waste and waste management. I have thus submitted the manuscript Leakage: being a risk object or an object at risk? Investigating potential synergies between gender studies and discard studies through the concept of risk (Submission 2) to the Journal of Gender Studies. In sum, during this project, I have pursued four types of data collection, each resulting in, and expected to result in, the publication of scientific articles: a) interviews with municipal waste collectors regarding citizen engagement (Forthcoming 1), b) interviews with representatives for companies working with circular economy and e-waste, (Article 1, Article 2, and Submission 1) c) interviews, visits and ethnographic fieldwork regarding graveside candles (Submission 2), and d) analyses of stories published on web pages regarding the #metoo and #jaztudi campaigns (chapter 1). With regards to the hypothetical link between discard studies and gender studies, I have also developed a more theoretical reasoning on questions regarding waste and waste management (submission 3). While the collection of material might appear somewhat disparate this project has confidently contributed to the disciplines of discard studies, risk research, gender studies and environmental sociology.

Abstract:

Drawing on the field of Science and Technology Studies (S&TS), this project has engaged in the regulations that govern the management of electronic waste (e-waste). The overall aim was to investigate the relation between the increasing generation of e-waste, regulations to manage this increase and their subsequent implementation. Focus has been on management of graveside candles, and in particular electronic graveside candles. Slovenia is one of Europe’s largest consumer of graveside candles. Appr. 15 million graveside candles are put on the market each year. The large amount has led to graveside candles currently being covered by the EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility), something that is unique for Slovenia; while countries such as Austria and Poland are big consumers of graveside candles, no other country in the European Union has an EPR on graveside candles. The EPR requires graveside candles to be disposed of, and collected separately in containers that are located on the cemeteries in Slovenia. An approximate of 10 percent of the graveside candles is electronic graveside candles. Saying this, according to Slovenian regulations, electronic graveside candles do not comprise their own fraction. Instead, they are part of the larger fraction graveside candles, and as such, they are also disposed of in the same containers as paraffin candles. Electronic graveside candles severely complicate the recycling process of graveside candles as they require manual disassembly, a most time-consuming undertaking. Also, electronic graveside candles generate huge amount of waste as they cannot be recycled to the same extent as paraffin candles. As electronic graveside candles are lighter than paraffin candles, they also contain weights to prevent them from tilting or being blown away. The material used as weights varies: from plaster to stones, to sand, to iron rods, to metal spirals. Not only does this require rigorous manual disassembly; it also generates huge amounts of waste. The outcomes include a) recommendations for how to develop and/or revise regulations governing management of waste graveside candles, b) an enhanced public awareness of the socio-environmental consequences of e-waste in general, particularly addressing students in upper secondary school. In order to address the aim of this project, it has employed feminist methodologies. Feminist methodologies has thus served as a tool box to generate new problematics, concepts, hypotheses and purposes of inquiry when it comes to investigating the relation between the consumption and disposal of graveside candles, regulations to manage the disposal and their subsequent implementation. Feminist methodologies has also facilitated the communication and dissemination strategies of this project as it is concurrently critical and praxis-oriented.


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