Sustainable Product Lifecycles: A Systemic Approach to the Regulation of E-Waste

By Maja Van der Velden, University of Oslo, Mark B. Taylor, Fafo Institute & Martin Oteng-Ababio, University of Ghana

18 September 2019, PLATE 2019 Conference, Berlin


International, regional, and national laws have failed to control the transportation and management of electronic waste. This study focuses on Agbogbloshie, a scrap metal yard in Accra, Ghana, which has received worldwide attention for its unsustainable recycling practices. The social and environmental impacts as a result of these practices are well-documented. This paper proposes a polycentric perspective on regulation, in which the state is not seen as the sole locus of authority. This approach enables a broader perspective on who or what regulates and how these modes of regulation interact. We discuss our systemic approach with the concept of regulatory ecology, in which the interactions between law, social norms, markets, and architecture are explored to provide a better understanding of why unsustainable behavior continues. This approach is explored in the mapping of the regulatory ecology of the burning of cables in Agbogbloshie, a fast and cheap method used for extracting copper. This practice continues even though more sustainable options, such as cable- stripping machines, are available in the scrap metal yard. A systemic approach to regulation brings a deeper understanding to regulatory ineffectiveness. We conclude that legislation that doesn’t address the interaction of hazardous waste and marginalization, will fail to deliver the social and environmental gains it pursues.

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Published July 1, 2020 4:18 PM - Last modified July 1, 2020 4:18 PM