Electronic Waste

Electronic Waste
By Jake McCrary
• What is electronic waste?
• Why is it a problem?
• What is being done about e-waste?
• Lead vs. Lead free
What is electronic waste?
• American definition
– Anything with a PCB or slightly complicated
electronic components
• European
– Anything with a plug
Electronic Waste
• More than 4.6 million tons of electronic
waste (e-waste) was produced in the US
in the year 2000 [Bhuie]
• In Europe, quantity of e-waste increases 3
to 5% a year [Bhuie]
– 3 times larger growth than other waste growth
Why is e-waste becoming a big
• Electronics are becoming more and more
a part of everyday life
• Embedded systems are every place
– Microwaves, printers, key fobs, cars,
appliances, cell phones
Why is e-waste becoming a big
• Electronics becoming disposable
• Cell phones
– Life span is about 1.5 years now
– 130 million are retired a year
– Over 500 million are stockpiled [Bhuie]
• Computers
– 20 million retired a year
– 240 million already stockpiled [Bhuie]
• Estimated that for every new cell phone or
computer one becomes obsolete [Bhuie]
Why is it a problem?
• Hazardous materials found in electronics
– Examples: Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium,
Nickel, Zinc, Antimony, Lead
– Can cause damage to brain, lungs, and other
– Lead especially toxic to developing children
Other Hazardous Materials
• Hazardous materials not only found in
electronic components
• Toxins are found in the plastics
– Brominated flame-retardants (BFR) added to
plastics to reduce chance of fire
– Damage to sexual development and growth
attributed to some BFRs [Jackson]
What is being done?
• Recycling programs
• Many programs try to refurbish and sell old
• Programs in place to mine precious metals
from old equipment
Examples of Recycling
• Computer companies have started recycling
– Some charge fee
– Some give customers rebates on new products
• Cell Phone recycling
– Largest programs are Verizon’s Hopeline and
Wireless Foundation’s Donate-a-Phone programs
Cell Phone vs. PC
• Cell phone recycling much more
successful than PC
– Costs 12 to 30 dollars to refurbish cell phones
– Refurbished cell phone worth 40 to 50 dollars
– 70% of cell phones refurbished [Bhuie]
• PC
– 10% recycled
– Costs 13 to 34 dollars
– Lack of refurbished market [Bhuie]
Cost Comparison for Collecting and
Processing of Cell Phone and PC
Cost (US $)
Cell Phone
Disposal of
Disposal of
Bhuie, A. K., O. A. Ogunseitan, et al. (2004).
Exporting Waste
• High cost of labor for recycling
• Outsource to China
– Cheap labor
– Laws are less strict
• City of Guiyu: e-waste hub of world
– Drinking water has to be brought in [Johnston]
– Horrible working conditions [Grossman]
– Studies show problems in workers from
recycling [Grossman]
Natalie Behring, www.nataliebehring.com
Natalie Behring, www.nataliebehring.com
Natalie Behring, www.nataliebehring.com
China and E-waste
• There is a lot of money to be had
processing electronic waste
• Chinese government trying to come up
with system
• Laws have been passed
• Electronics companies taking some
responsibility in making sure waste
handled properly [Johnston]
• Poor conditions not only overseas
• Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) run
electronic waste processing in prisons
• Workers are in unsafe environments [Jackson]
• Negatively affects legitimate recyclers by
undercutting on price [Jackson]
Legitimate Recyclers
• Some take old equipment and pass on to schools and
• Others mine for metals
– 30 to 50% circuit is made of metal [Grossman]
• 950 e-waste processors in North America
– 400 to 500 in the United States [Grossman]
• 700 million dollar industry in 2003 [Grossman]
• Estimated that by 2010 the industry will have $3.5 billion
dollars in revenue [Grossman]
What about Europe?
• Two directives have been passed
– Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment
– Restrictions of the Use of Certain Hazardous
Substances (RoHS)
• Move responsibility of end of life impact to
producer (“producer responsibility”) [Tetra
Waste Electrical and Electronic
Equipment (WEEE)
• Producers responsible for collection, treatment,
and disposal of e-waste [Tetra Tech]
• Logos must be placed on products alerting
customers not to throw away in normal trash
[Tetra Tech]
• Provide list of materials in products to recyclers
[Tetra Tech]
Restriction of the Use of Certain
Hazardous Substances (RoHS)
• The name is fitting
• Restricts:
– Lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium,
cadmium, and some brominated flame
retardants [Tetra Tech]
– If there is no alternative you can use the
• Every 4 years review to see if you can stop using
restricted substance [Grossman]
• Has a large impact on electronics [Mueller]
• Lead is used in practically everything
• Getting rid of lead clearly makes end of life
better [Mueller]
• Yet some environmentalists are opposed to lead
Lead vs. Lead free
• SnAgCu is common replacement to SnPb
• US EPA finds that SnAgCu has greater
environmental impact on:
Non-renewable resources
Energy use
Water Quality
Ozone depletion
Global Warming
• Per 1000 cc of solder, lead free uses an energy
equivalent of 162 gallons more of gasoline
[United States EPA]
Lead Free
• Increased environmental impact comes from
material and process related issues
[United States EPA; Mueller]
• Metals used are more costly to extract [Mueller]
• Melting point is higher which results in more
energy use [Mueller]
• Tin based solders form whiskers [Mueller]
Why would anyone want to move to
lead free?
• Improvements cannot be made to impact
of lead at end of life
• Processes used to produce and use lead
free solder could be improved
• Forcing lead free could force companies to
come up with recycling friendly designs to
reduce cost
• Electronics are becoming more and more
of part of everyday life
• New legislature is forcing electronic
industry to pay attention to environmental
• It is unsure if such laws are beneficial
Tetra Tech. (2005). "Factsheet: WEEE and RoHS Directives." Retrieved 10/21, 2006, from
Bhuie, A. K., O. A. Ogunseitan, et al. (2004). Environmental and economic trade-offs in consumer
electronic products recycling: a case study of cell phones and computers. Electronics and the
Environment, 2004. Conference Record. 2004 IEEE International Symposium on, 10-13 May
2004, Page(s): 74 – 79
Grossman, E. (2006). High tech trash: digital devices, hidden toxics, and human health.
Washington, Island Press/Shearwater Books.
Jackson, A. S., A. Shuman, et al. (2006). "Toxic Sweatshops: How UNICOR Prison Recycling
Harms Workers, Communities, the Environment, and the Recycling Industry." Retrieved 10/22,
2006, from http://www.computertakeback.com/docUploads/ToxicSweatshops.pdf.
Johnston, B. R. (2003). "The Political Ecology of Water: An Introduction " Capitalism, nature,
socialism 14(3): 73 - 90.
Mueller, J., H. Griese, et al. (2005). Transition to lead free soldering - a great change for a better
understanding of materials and processes and green electronics.
United States. Environmental Protection Agency. (2005). "Solders in electronics a life-cycle
assessment." Retrieved 10/20, 2006, from http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/dfe/pubs/solder/lca/lfs-lcafinal.pdf.

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