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: 


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.

Mar 2019 update – A manuscript entitled “A critical review on the chemical properties and ecological impacts of e-wastes” is in the final stage of preparation for submission to Pure and Applied Chemistry. This will be the first of the series of review papers to be published by the project.

Aug 2020 update – A revised manuscript entitled ‘Global occurrence, chemical properties, and ecological impacts of e-wastes (IUPAC Technical Report)’, by Purchase, D., Abbasi, G., et al. is published in Pure Appl. Chem. (AOP 19 Aug 2020);


Feb 2022 update – An invited talk on ‘E-waste contamination in soil and its management’ was presented at the CHEMRAWN XXII E-waste in Africa Conference on 9 November 2021.

An invited talk on ‘Urban mining and treatment of electronic waste streams’ was presented on 10 November 2021 at a workshop on Strengthening chemical and biological waste management in Central Asia countries for improved security and safety risk mitigation. The workshop was organised by the EU Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence (CoE).

A second manuscript on the evolution of world-wide e-waste recycling technologies and practice is being prepared by the task group. Dr Angela Serpe of the University of Cagliari is the lead author.

Page last updated 28 Feb 2022