Massive Open Online Course on E-waste launched by UN and partners to galvanise action for better managing this expanding source of hazardous waste

18 February 2020, Geneva

It is estimated that, by 2050, there will be about 120 million metric tonnes of e-waste produced per year, far-outstripping current capacities to properly manage it in an environmentally and socially appropriate manner[1].

The Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions (BRS), together with its partners the European Institute for Innovation and Technology’s Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (Climate-KIC), the European Institute for Innovation and Technology’s RawMaterials Knowledge and Innovation Community (RawMaterials-KIC), the International Telecommunication Union, KU Leuven and the World Resources Forum, is proud to launch an updated Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, on the electronic and electrical waste - or e-waste - challenge, also with contributions from the World Health Organization.

Rolph Payet, BRS Executive Secretary, said that “this MOOC will introduce you to the challenge of e-waste and especially to its environmentally sound recycling. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to impacts of e-waste processing on health. In some countries they represent as much as 30% of the workforce. When women and girls are affected in this way as the mothers of today and tomorrow, our common future is affected too. The course will guide you through the problem, to opportunities, and to possible actions at local, national and regional levels, and will introduce you to policy tools, standards and best practices for the collection, recycling, and final disposal of e-waste.”

 “I have always believed that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have a vital role to play in combatting the major environmental challenges facing the world, such as climate change and e-waste,” said Malcolm Johnson, ITU (International Telecommunication Union) Deputy Secretary-General. “So, I am especially pleased to support this MOOC which will enable stakeholders across the world - in developing and developed countries alike - to access valuable e-waste resources, insights, best practices, standards and tools, and translate these into practical actions to protect people’s health and the environment.”

“E-waste is a serious health problem affecting millions of young children, adolescents, future mothers to-be. These are people who work in dangerous conditions to retrieve precious metals to earn money to support their families. This work exposes them to dangerous chemicals, heavy metals, toxic air. E-waste pollutes their communities, their homes, their schools, their soil, their food, and the air they breathe. We urgently need to have e-waste very clearly identified as a health problem. As the health agency of the United Nations, WHO’s duty is to communicate the evidence, the information, the tools we have available to address this emerging health hazard. We must raise awareness, and advocate for multisectoral policies that promote and protect our children’s health and their rights” added Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization (WHO).

EIT Climate-KIC’s Learning Services Lead, Solveig Zophoniasdottir, added: “Our MOOC highlights that e-waste is a societal challenge that also is part of a larger opportunity to create a prosperous zero carbon future, driven by innovation, jobs, and investment. EIT Climate-KIC is seizing that opportunity by connecting both public and private sectors with climate change-focused education, research and innovation. Ideas are the oxygen of growth in the zero-carbon economy, and I am convinced that this collaboration with UNEP will spark many new ones.”

Karel Van Acker, professor in Circular Economy at KU Leuven in Belgium and a member of EIT RawMaterials, mentioned the huge opportunities of a circular economy for electronics in saving resources, lowering the environmental footprint and recovering value, and the close link it has with climate change mitigation.

According to Bas de Leeuw, Managing Director of the World Resources Forum the relaunch of the MOOC on E-waste comes very timely: “Circular Economy is attracting worldwide attention, in particular stimulated by the programs of the European Commission and others. We need to make sure that this not only makes sense for the environment but also for the economy, and for wellbeing and human development in developing countries. At the WRF we have hands-on experience in this field through our Sustainable Recycling Industries (SRI) program, and we are very pleased to be able to share our knowledge and skills to the wider community. Making standards – which is a core priority in our portfolio - is one thing, turning them into action requires further capacity building and supporting all stakeholders in the value chains.”

Fast-growing waste stream

E-waste is a fast-growing waste stream in the world and poses a number of serious threats to human health and the environment. Conversely, if undertaken in an environmentally sound manner, e-waste recycling can offer sustainable livelihoods, green and decent work, and contribute to the development of a circular economy.

The course opens on Tuesday 18th February, and is aimed at students and researchers, policy makers in the environment and telecommunication sector, practitioners, entrepreneurs, e-waste recyclers and government officials and invites participants to become part of the solution to this growing problem. Relevant for developed and developing countries alike, the 8-week programme covers all aspects of e-waste with a view to turn the threat of this global explosion of e-waste into an opportunity. The course is organized in five mini-courses which could be taken one after the other or independently.

The MOOC explores and explains the Basel Convention technical guidelines on transboundary movements of electrical and electronic waste and used electrical and electronic equipment, in particular regarding the distinction between waste and non-waste.

E-waste can be classified as hazardous waste under the Basel Convention due to the presence of toxic materials such as mercury, lead and brominated flame retardants which include some polybrominated diphenyl ethers listed in the annexes to the Stockholm Convention.

E-waste may also contain precious metals such as gold, copper and nickel and rare materials of strategic value such as indium and palladium. These precious and heavy metals could be recovered, recycled and used as valuable source of secondary raw materials.

To register for the MOOC:

For more information on the MOOC:

The MOOC was updated and expanded thanks to the generous financial support of the European Union.


Notes for editors:

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive international environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes and is almost universal, with 187 Parties. With an overarching objective of protecting human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes, its scope covers a wide range of wastes defined as hazardous based on their origin and/or composition and characteristics, as well as two types of waste defined as “other wastes”, namely household waste and incinerator ash. For more info see The Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, or BRS Secretariat, services the three leading multilateral environment agreements governing hazardous chemicals and waste, in order to protect human health and the environment. See for more info and follow the @brsmeas twitter feed for daily news.

EIT Climate-KIC is Europe’s largest public-private partnership addressing climate change through innovation to build a net zero carbon economy. With over 380 formal partners from across 26 countries, its mission is to catalyse systemic change for climate action through innovation in areas of human activity that have a critical impact on greenhouse gas emissions - cities, lands, materials and finance - and to create climate-resilient communities. Education underpins these themes to accelerate learning and to inspire and empower the next generation of climate leaders.

EIT RawMaterials, initiated and funded by the EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology), a body of the European Union, is the largest consortium in the raw materials sector worldwide. Its vision is to develop raw materials into a major strength for Europe. Its mission is to enable sustainable competitiveness of the European minerals, metals and materials sector along the value chain by driving innovation, education and entrepreneurship. EIT RawMaterials unites more than 120 core and associate partners and 180+ project partners from leading industry, universities and research institutions from more than 20 EU countries.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication

technologies (ICTs), driving innovation in ICTs with a global membership including 193 Member States and over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organizations. Established in 1865, ITU is responsible for coordinating the shared global use of radio-frequency spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in developing countries, and establishing international standards that support the interconnection and interoperability of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. For more information, visit: 

KU Leuven is Europe’s most innovative university (according to the news agency Reuters) and ranks 48th in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. As Belgium's largest university, KU Leuven welcomes close to 60,000 students from over 140 countries. Its 7,000 researchers are active in a comprehensive range of disciplines. KU Leuven is a founding member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) and has a strong European and international orientation.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) works worldwide to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable. Our goal is to ensure that a billion more people have universal health coverage, to protect a billion more people from health emergencies, and provide a further billion people with better health and well-being. As the health agency for the United Nations, we are building a better, healthier future for people all over the world.  For more information about WHO and its work, visit Follow WHO on FacebookTwitterYouTubeInstagram

The World Resources Forum (WRF) is best-known for its annual flagship events, providing the global platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue on resource governance and resource efficiency. The WRF Secretariat also leads or contributes to large projects in these fields, including the Swiss-funded Sustainable Recycling Industry (SRI) program, a range of EC H2020 coordination and research projects - FORAM, CEWASTE, RE:SOURCING and CICERONE – and a number of projects with United Nations, development agencies and industry. Together with UNEP the WRF has published a MOOC on Decoupling (The Revolution Trainer), and together with the BRS Convention Secretariat and partners the MOOC on e-waste.

For more information, contact:

BRS Secretariat –                Francesca Cenni, Programme Officer, tel: +41-22-9178364

BRS Press –                         Charlie Avis, Public Information Officer tel: +41-79-7304495

[1] Estimates from: A New Circular Vision for Electronics, time for a global reboot. World Economic Forum, 2019.