Electronic Waste -Issues, Scale of Use, OSH and

The Global Impact of E-Waste
– Addressing the challenge
Pavan Baichoo
Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the Environment
ILO Geneva
[email protected]
• The global growth in electrical and electronic equipment
production and consumption is exponential.
• Electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing waste
stream today.
• Due to the high financial investment needed for
environmentally sound waste management, there is
currently a high level of transboundary, often illegal,
movement of e-waste into developing countries for
recycling and the worldwide market for e-waste is
growing by almost 9% per year.
• Between 50% and 80% of e-waste collected for recycling
in developed countries each year is being exported.
E-waste Composition
• The composition of e-waste is very diverse and differs in
products across different categories .
• It contains more than a 1000 different substances, which
fall under ‘hazardous’ and ‘non-hazardous’ categories.
• Iron and steel constitutes about 50%, followed by
plastics (21%), non ferrous metals (13%) and other
• It often contain several persistent, bioaccumulative and
toxic substances including heavy metals such as lead,
nickel, chromium, mercury and persistent organic
pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls and
brominated flame retardants.
Issues Posed
• High volumes - high demand and rapid obsolescence
• Toxic design
• Poor design and complexity – need sophisticated
• Financial incentives – currently e-waste does not have
enough value in developed countries (however, this is
changing mainly due to extended-producer-responsibility
(EPR) policies and increasing value of precious metals)
• Lack of regulation – ‘loopholes’ or lack of regulation
The e-waste trade
• There is a lack of information regarding how much ewaste is generated, from where and to where it is
• E-waste recycling hotspots have been identified in AsiaPacific countries such as China, India, Pakistan and in
some African countries such as Senegal, Ghana and
• Other countries including Mexico, Morocco, Colombia,
Peru, Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, Uganda, Brazil,
Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand are additional
growing destinations for e-waste.
The flow of electronic waste
• It is estimated that China receives the highest proportion,
about 70% of all the e-waste, followed by India.
• E-waste recycling provides employment to thousands of
poor people. The financial crisis has exacerbated this
trend; more and more workers are ending up with jobs in
businesses fuelled by poverty.
• It is a booming, often illegal business that frequently
attracts migrant workers.
• The recovery of valuable materials takes place in small
workshops using simple recycling methods such as
manual disassembly, open burning, heating printed
circuit boards and acid extraction.
Risks to Workers and the
Different chemicals pose different hazards and without information, safe
handling cannot be assured
The main hazards arise from the presence of heavy metals, persistent
organic pollutants, flame retardants and other potentially hazardous
Main concerns:
Mercury in relays, switches, and gas discharge lamps;
Batteries containing mercury, cadmium, lead and lithium.
Printed circuit boards contain a number of substances of concern such as
lead, antimony, beryllium and cadmium.
Plastics containing brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride in
wire insulation – releases of dioxins and furans when burnt.
Cathode ray tubes contain a great amount of all substances concerned
such as 2-3kg of lead in each device.
Liquid crystal display (LCD) screens contain a mixture of 10-20 substances
• The workers and local residents in areas of e-recycling in
developing countries are exposed to the chemicals
through inhalation, dust ingestion, dermal exposure and
dietary intake.
• Workers are exposed to other hazards leading to
physical injuries and chronic ailments such as asthma,
skin diseases, eye irritations etc.
• For the most part, workers are not aware of
environmental and health risks, do not know better
practices or have no access to investment capital to
finance safety measures.
• It is a global environmental and health emergency,
beyond occupational exposure involving vulnerable
groups and future generations.
E-waste is a cross-cutting issue with global significance and therefore
requires cross-sectoral implementation.
Needed on all levels: community, local, regional and global initiatives.
E-waste recycling in the informal sector provides jobs to thousands of
people and has the potential to support formal waste management agencies
through central collection sites etc.
A two-way flow between developed and developing countries.
Integration of the informal sector with the formal could result in reduced
pollution, better resource management and create numerous jobs in the
recycling sector.
Cheap, safe and simple processing methods for informal sector recycling
There is a need for different interventions, international cooperation and
goal-oriented actions on e-waste, including:
Enforcement of a global ban (Basel Convention Enforcement) of the
transboundary movement of hazardous waste from developed to developing
Take a precautionary approach: reduce and eliminate hazardous
Education and Information including eco-labelling of products; increase
public, scientific and business knowledge.
Technology transfer and capacity building.
The establishment of a global information database.
Producer take-back programmes and Extended Producer Responsibility.
Optimizing the life cycle - design for recycling and for long-life products,
improve supply chains, energy efficiency and close material loops.
Exercising concern about disparities such as the digital divide between
developing and developed countries.
ILO + tools
• Ratification and implementation of the ILO
Chemicals Convention, 1990 (No. 170) and
• Implementation of the GHS
• ILO Labour standards and the Green jobs
• Promotion of cooperatives
• Awareness raising, enforcement of legislation
(both environmental and labour).
Future Challenges and
• Growth in electronic products use in developing
countries will put higher demand on life-cycle
management, prolonged lifespan and EPR.
• E-waste recycling in the informal sector provides jobs to
thousands of people and has the potential to support
formal waste management agencies.
• Integrating the informal sector with the formal could
result in reduced pollution, better resource management
and create numerous green jobs in the recycling sector.
• The collection, segregation and primary dismantling of
non-hazardous fractions of e-waste could be focused in
the informal sector while the other higher order recycling
processes may be concentrated in the formal sector
Thank you
For further information:
Pavan Baichoo
Technical Officer, Occupational Safety
Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the
Environment (SafeWork)
International Labour Office (ILO)
4 rte. Des Morillons, CH-1211 Geneva
:[email protected]

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