New Article: Davis & Garb, Partnering with the Informal E-Waste Industry

Davis, John-Michael, and Yaakov Garb. “A Model for Partnering with the Informal E-Waste Industry: Rationale, Principles and a Case Study.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 105A (2015): 73-83.


Various forms of informal activity have long played an under-recognized yet substantial role in solid waste management, especially in developing countries. In particular, informal activity is prominent in the electronic waste (e-waste) sector, whose volume and impacts have grown rapidly over recent decades. While the worrying aspects of informal e-waste recycling have been widely discussed, less attention has been given to its positive potential and to its relation to formal e-waste actors and policies. These topics have direct implication for pathways for transitioning from informality, and, in particular, ways in which informal recyclers can build on their strengths while beginning to operate in cleaner ways that retain livelihoods while reducing ill effects.

In this paper, we draw upon extensive field work as well as secondary literatures to offer a taxonomy of management stances towards informal e-waste practices. These range from hostility through disconnection to interaction and, finally, synergy. Our recommendation is for the latter since the informal sector has important strengths and merits, as well as its harmful aspects, while formal approaches that ignore or attempt to squelch the informal sector do not yield constructive outcomes. Specifically, we suggest an incremental ratcheting synergistic model that draws on the respective strengths of both sectors to forge a genuine partnership between them. We describe six key elements of this model, and illustrate it through application to the Israeli–Palestinian context we have studied in depth. In particular, we show how the treatment of copper cables, now one of this industry’s largest and most harmful segments, can be improved through an incremental series of synergetic solutions that preserve or even improve livelihoods of informal recyclers while greatly reducing their health and environmental impacts.





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