TEAM 6 // tracking illegal e-waste

PRESS RELEASE: Beacon trackers for e-waste tracking


EU to plant tracking devices on the collected electronic-waste to map its route, enabling it to gain insights into the issue to act on their illegal export to developing countries.


TRACK: 3 Future of Work


In 2019 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were generated worldwide. Just 17% of it was recycled appropriately. The issue is not much different in the EU. European countries lack the capacity to reuse, recycle and recover all of its electronic waste, so exporting e-waste to developing countries has been a growing alternative to get rid of the problem. Electronic waste contains various harmful substances, including lead, mercury and flame retardants, that pose considerable environmental and health risks if improperly treated.



Informal waste workers sorting electronic waste components in developing countries

Even though the Basel Convention prohibits the transport of hazardous waste, European companies are still illegally exporting e-waste, due to the lack of treatment capacity, high transport and recycling costs and little available land for disposal, hence benefiting at the expense of developing countries. Further, the lack of transparency of e-waste streams promotes this illegal activity, causing environmental and health hazards.


The main collaborators of the project include entities like the EU Parlament, United Nations and World Bank, that will be responsible for the implementation of new laws and legislations associated with e-waste disposal. The manufacturers of GPS tracking devices will also be our key collaborators.


The project focuses on the identification of the e-waste destinations and transport routes after its collection, rather than a technical recycling solution (top-down approach). The solution starts with the installation of GPS tracking devices, also called GPS Beacon, on some of the e-waste. The trackers will be purchased directly from the manufacturer and assembled in the waste collection centres by its existing and trained employees. The e-waste with the placed trackers will then follow its usual path, to either be collected, transferred to their recycling plant or municipal landfill, or illegally exported. The e-waste will be tracked through satellites until their final destination and the geolocation data will be collected.


With the information about the path traced by e-waste due to the GPS devices, it will be possible to provide free and transparent information in order to create conscience about the illegal e-waste disposal. Main destinations and countries involved will be revealed. It would be also possible to identify private companies involved in the illegal activity matching the GPS trackers with port schedules and border controls. International authorities could take legal action on private companies and local customs. Developing countries could know the exact location of illegal e-waste landfills and take action (creating recycling programs, making sender countries accountable, allocating more resources to local communities).


When identifying companies involved in illegal activities, fines will be collected by
international organizations (UN, EU, World Bank) as a form of revenue. Also, detailed information about the location of the e-waste will be sold for a small fee. In the longer-term venture capital from consumer electronics firms could be attracted as they want to recover precious raw material from old devices and see their green marketing/law-abiding options.


The main positive impact will be access to free and transparent information about the e-waste stream. This will lead to the end of illegal e-waste export and therefore the promotion of the increase of the recycling capacity in the EU. Also, the safety and health of communities and the environment would increase.



Our team with diverse interests all participated in the virtual innovation sprint to increase their knowledge through interaction with people. It offered a chance to create new business models, learn about new topics related to sustainability and take constructive actions. The team decided to develop the ideas on the application of satellite systems for fulfilling sustainability goals. We focused on tracking waste streams as that aspect has not been well executed yet.


  • Felix Wursthorn:
  • Konstantina Gkika:
  • Christiane Hanke:
  • Amogh Gokhale:


  • Challenge brief: ESA Business Incubation Centre, Space Systems
Categories: TEAM


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