Project Details The environmental and health challenges of e-waste and its management: an emerging 21st century global concern

Project No.:
Start Date:
15 March 2015
End Date:
Division Name:
Chemistry and the Environment Division
Division No.:


The waste stream of obsolete electrical and electronic equipment grows exponentially annually, creating a worldwide pollution problem. E-wastes contain potential contaminants that are distinct from other forms of wastes; there is a paucity of information on their long-term impact and management strategy. This project aims to bring together global expertise to a) examine current research on the chemical nature of e-waste and its global distribution; b) evaluate its environmental and health impact of e-waste and related risk management tools and models; c) identify short-comings in present regulations and management strategies as well as future challenges; and d) develop a set of specific recommendations for management approaches that are science-based and globally informed.


E-waste presented a global waste management challenge due to the rapid obsolesce of the technologies; the United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimated in 2012 that 20-50 million tons of e-waste is generated worldwide, which is more than 5% of the total municipal solid waste stream (UNEP 2011). The nature of the e-wastes is relatively distinctly from municipal waste. For examples: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in electrical equipment such as capacitors and transformers manufactured before 1976; chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons and hyddrocarbons in refrigerators, mercury containing components in thermostats, position sensors relays and switches; heavy metals from wires and circuit boards; lead and phosphor in cathode ray tubes in computers monitors and televisions; and flame-retardant components such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDPEs) in plastics and tetrabromo-bisphenol A (TBBA) in printed circuit boards are the major sources of pollution and can lead to potential environmental and human exposure during their recycling and disposal.

Accurate information on the flow of e-waste is difficult to obtain but it was estimated that 80% of all e-waste in developed countries is being exported for recycling in developing countries (Hick et al., 2005) and illegal disposal of e-waste is prevalent in Africa (Lubick, 2012). There is a lack of regulation in the disposal of e-waste in developing countries and the problem is exasperated by the shortage of appropriate technologies to process these waste safely. Many of the e-wastes are dismantled at waste facilities or scrap yards that offer little protection environmental and health protection.

Information on the generation, disposal and flow of e-waste is important in the planning of effective management strategy. The objectives of the propose project are three-fold:

a) Provide a state of the art critical review of the current knowledge and understanding of the impact of e-wastes on the environment and health and the risks associated with them – it will address the problems of detection, identification and behaviour/transformation in different environmental compartments; generate a classification of the e-waste according to their chemical composition, source, the amount produced per year and potential environment impact;

b) Compare the regulatory and management provisions in developed and developing countries to monitor e-waste and safeguard the environment and health — it will identify current and future challenges;

c) Provide recommendations that can be imputed for a coherent management plan (including sustainable recycle and reuse of e-waste) within the complex context of socio/economic structures.

Hicks, C., Dietmar, R. & Eugster, M. 2005, “The recycling and disposal of electrical and electronic waste in China — legislative and market responses”, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, vol. 25, no. 5, pp. 459-471,

Lubick, N. 2012, “Shifting mountains of electronic waste”, Environmental health perspectives, vol. 120, no. 4, pp. A148-A149. UNEP (2011) Where are WEEE in Africa. Findings from the Basel Convention E-waste Africa Programme; see (Access 12 September 2014)


An announcement of this project was published in the July 2015 issue of Chemistry International, p. 22-23,

The Task group organised on 20 Sep 2015, a kick-off meeting as a satellite event of the 15th EuCheMS International Conference on Chemistry and the Environment. The conference is to take place on 20-25 Sept 2015 in Leipzig, Germany. See details at

Sep 2017 update – As part of the symposia series presented by Division VI (Chemistry and the Environment) in the IUPAC 46th World Chemistry Congress, Sao Paulo, Brazil, the task group has organised a symposium on ‘Environmental impact of emerging technologies: E-waste- an emerging global challenge’. Our panel of international speakers explored a number of issues, including: management and regulations of electronic waste in developed and developing countries, the resulting environmental and health impacts, development of a sustainable alternative electronic component and valorisation of electronic waste.
The abstracts and photos of the e-waste symposium can be access via project 2016-035-1-600.

Page last updated 18 Sep 2017