Electronic Waste Management: Design, Analysis and Application

Electronic Waste Management: Design, Analysis and Application

by R E Hester

Electronic waste includes such items as TVs, computers, LCD and plasma displays, and mobile phones, as well as a wide range of household, medical and industrial equipment which are simply discarded as new technologies become available. Huge and growing quantities of waste are discarded every year and this waste contains toxic and carcinogenic compounds which can


Electronic waste includes such items as TVs, computers, LCD and plasma displays, and mobile phones, as well as a wide range of household, medical and industrial equipment which are simply discarded as new technologies become available. Huge and growing quantities of waste are discarded every year and this waste contains toxic and carcinogenic compounds which can pose a risk to the environment. However, if handled correctly, electronic waste presents a valuable source of secondary raw materials. This book brings together a group of leading experts in the management of electrical and electronic waste to provide an up-to-date review of the scale of the waste problem, the impact of recent legislation such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) and the "restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment" directive (RoHS), and of current and future methods for treatment, recycling and disposal of this waste. The book discusses these latest directives, examines current worldwide legislation and considers the opportunities and threats posed by this form of waste. While the emphasis is on European practice, comparisons with other countries such as the USA, Japan and China are made. The book deals with the full range of waste management issues, including recycling and recovery of materials, design considerations for waste minimisation, and contains a wide variety of illustrative case studies eg: LCD displays. With detailed and comprehensive coverage of the subject matter it also contains an extensive bibliography with each chapter. Key chapters cover areas such as: -electronic waste -materials -EU directives -landfill and incineration -recycling and recovery -'cradle to grave' design considerations -engineering thermoplastics It is essential reading for all involved with electrical and electronic waste management through its comprehensive review of recent EU legislation and the subsequent impact on manufacturers and users of electronic equipment.

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Royal Society of Chemistry, The
Publication date:
Issues in Environmental Science and Technology Series, #27
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

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Electronic Waste Management

By R.E. Hester, R.M. Harrison

The Royal Society of Chemistry

Copyright © 2009 Royal Society of Chemistry
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85404-112-1


Introduction and Overview


1 Introduction

In recent years there has been growing concern about the negative impacts that industry and its products are having on both society and the environment in which we live. The concept of sustainability and the need to behave in a more sustainable manner has therefore received increasing attention. With the world's population growing rapidly and generally improving wealth, the consumption of materials, energy and other resources has been accelerating in a way that cannot be sustained. With issues such as global warming also now more openly acknowledged as being significantly influenced by our activities, there is a clear need to address the way society uses, and often wastes, valuable resources. In short, we have to behave more sustainably. There are a number of useful definitions of sustainability and the World Commission on Environment & Development has defined it as:

'Meeting the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'

This is a good top-level definition but, in the context of industry, it needs to be more specifically focused to encompass the typical requirements of businesses and a more appropriate definition is:

'Adopting strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders today while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future'

One area in which there has been much concern about the lack of sustainable behaviour is in the manufacture, use and disposal of electrical and electronic products. The electronics industry provides us with the devices that have become so essential to our modern way of life and yet it also represents an area where the opportunities to operate in a sustainable way have not yet been properly realised. In fact, much electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is typically characterised by a number of factors, including improved performance and reduced cost in each new generation of product, that actually encourage unsustainable behaviour. Products such as mobile phones are often treated as fashion items and are replaced long before their design lifetimes have expired; see Figure 1.

With products increasingly having short lifecycles, using hazardous materials and processes, and generating waste both during manufacture and at end of life, the manufacturers of EEE have become an increasingly popular and easy target for environmental groups such as Greenpeace, who have embarrassingly highlighted the deficiencies of many large international electronics companies. There has also been much recent negative publicity for manufacturers about the eventual fate of their products at end of life and the effective dumping of electrical and electronic waste in Third World and Far Eastern countries. Clearly, while western society has demonstrated that it is keen to embrace the benefits that modern electrical and electronic products can bring, when it comes to end of life and disposal, we have been happy to allow other parts of the world to deal with the problem.

In an acknowledgement that society in general, and the electrical/electronics industry in particular, needs to operate in a more responsible and sustainable manner, the European Commission (EC) has, over the last few years, introduced a suite of Producer Responsibility legislation to address the problem. This is being driven by the EC to achieve a number of objectives aimed at a more sustainable approach to resource use and a reduction in the quantity of waste going to landfill. It also aims to divert end-of-life products for re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery, as well as proscribing the use of certain hazardous materials and reducing energy consumption through the product lifecycle. Interestingly, Producer Responsibility is an extension of the 'polluter pays' principle and it places responsibility for end-of-life management on the original producer. In summary, Producer Responsibility legislation aims to encourage producers to design, manufacture and market products that:

• reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous materials • use greater amounts of recyclate • can be more easily treated at end of life • minimise waste • can be re-used • use fewer resources throughout their life

Within Europe, there are numerous Directives and Regulations aimed at implementing Producer Responsibility and key examples important to the electrical and electronics industries include the WEEE, RoHS and Energy-using Products Directives, as well as the REACH Regulations.

There is clearly a need for the electronics industry to operate in a more sustainable manner, both to meet the requirements of the increasingly stringent legislation and to satisfy the needs of customers who also expect industry to have high environmental standards. The electronics industry can achieve these aims through the adoption of new manufacturing processes, the use of new materials and the development of enhanced recovery and re-use strategies at end of life. While this can already often be achieved by industry itself, there are also longer-term opportunities that will only be addressed via further research and development.

This opening chapter gives a broad introduction to the issues of sustainability within the context of end-of-life electrical and electronic products. The following text seeks to outline the nature of electrical and electronic equipment waste, the scale of the problem and current practices to deal with it. The way that Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) has been, and continues to be, treated is described and details of new, more sustainable approaches to waste treatment are outlined. It is clear that EEE needs to be considered in a more holistic way, with a 'cradle to cradle' rather than 'cradle to grave' approach. Recent Producer Responsibility legislation, largely led by Europe, has set the future agenda and, globally, there is now an acknowledgment both of the scale of the problem and of the need for innovative solutions.

2 WEEE – The Scale of the Problem

WEEE has been Europe's fastest-growing waste stream for a number of years and it has been estimated that an average UK citizen born in 2003 will be responsible for generating around 8 tonnes of WEEE during her or his lifetime. The quantities of WEEE produced are both very large and growing. For example, the total amount of European WEEE produced in 1998 was estimated as being 6 million tonnes, with the figure having grown to between 8.3 and 9.1 million tonnes by 2005. For the period covering the next 12 years, it has been predicted that total European WEEE arisings will grow annually at between 2.5% and 2.7% to reach a figure in excess of 12 million tonnes by 2020. (Although this increase does partly represent a real growth in the quantities of WEEE that Europe generates, it should also be remembered that Europe has also grown in size to embrace a number of new member states.)

In recent years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has highlighted the large volume of WEEE that each person is responsible for generating during their lifetimes via the construction of the 'RSA WEEE Man' shown in Figure 2. Designed by Paul Bonomini, the 'RSA WEEE Man' is a huge robotic figure made of scrap electrical and electronic equipment. Weighing 3.3 tonnes and standing 7 metres tall, it represents the average amount of electrical and electronic products each of us throws away during our lifetime.

In the UK, almost 2 million tonnes of WEEE are generated each year. Data compiled in earlier studies on arisings of WEEE, expressed as weight and units for the categories defined by the WEEE Directive, used sales data from 2003 as the starting point. Information was obtained from manufacturers, retailers, trade associations and market research organisations. The studies estimated that 939,000 tonnes of domestic equipment were discarded in the UK in 2003 and this comprised 93 million items of equipment. Table 1 shows the arisings of domestic WEEE in the UK in 2003. (No information on medical devices and automatic dispensers was obtained and therefore is not included in the table.)

Clearly, WEEE represents a serious problem, not just in terms of how its treatment and disposal is ultimately managed but also in the broader context of sustainability and the waste of valuable and finite resources.

3 Legislative Influences on Electronics Recycling

3.1 Producer Responsibility Legislation

Following acknowledgment that the volumes of WEEE arising in the European Union were very large and increasing year on year, the EC introduced a range of legislation aimed directly at tackling the problem. The two key, and perhaps best known, pieces of legislation are the WEEE and RoHS Directives. After over 10 years of debate, these Directives have now become a reality and they have had a significant impact on the way manufacturers design, produce and dispose of their products. The WEEE Directive, however, is just one part of a much larger policy mechanism within the EC that is aimed at introducing Producer Responsibility. This makes the producers (in this case, of electrical and electronic equipment) legally responsible for the recovery and recycling of their products when they are finally disposed of at end of life. In addition to these recently implemented directives, there are also a number of other pieces of pending legislation that will have at least some impact on aspects of electronic waste management. Key examples here include the Energy-using Products Directive and the new chemicals legislation known as the REACH Regulations.

3.2 The WEEE Directive

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive directly controls the disposal of end-of-life equipment and the percentage going to landfill, as well as setting targets for the percentages of a product that have to be recovered and recycled. The WEEE Directive specifies ten categories of types of electrical and electronic equipment and each category has a defined recycling and recovery target. All recycling and recovery targets are based on a percentage of total product weight. Although there is a huge amount of specific detail within the WEEE Directive, its broad aim is to reduce the volume of electrical and electronic waste consigned to landfill, increase the recovery and recycling of electrical and electronic waste and minimise the lifecycle environmental impact of the electrical and electronic equipment sector.

The basic aims of the WEEE Directive can be summarised as follows:

• Separate collection of WEEE (4 kg per head of population) • Treatment according to agreed standards • Recovery and recycling to meet set targets • Producer pays from collection onwards (retail) • Option for business users to pay some or all of costs • Retailers to offer take-back of end-of-life equipment • Consumers to return WEEE free of charge

By introducing guidelines and requirements such as the provision of information for recycling and the design of products to aid re-use, recovery and recycling, the WEEE Directive aims to improve the environmental performance of all operators involved in the lifecycle of EEE, i.e. producers, customers and recyclers.

3.3 The RoHS Directive

The 'Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment' (RoHS) Directive was originally contained within the text of the WEEE Directive, but it has subsequently been removed and now exists as a stand-alone Directive that complements the WEEE Directive. The key objective of the RoHS Directive is the protection of human health and the environment through restrictions on the use of certain hazardous substances. Specifically, these materials are lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls and certain polybrominated diphenyl ethers. RoHS became law in the UK in August 2005 and the proscription of the identified hazardous materials applied from July 2006. The RoHS Directive has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on manufacturers, sellers, distributors and recyclers of electrical and electronic equipment. Producers need to ensure that the products they put on the European market do not contain the proscribed materials and that they comply with the requirements of the Directive. If a producer is found to have placed products that contain these proscribed materials on the European market they may be forced to withdraw them. The RoHS Directive covers all of the products categories described in the WEEE Directive, except for the medical and monitoring and control categories. Because it is not possible to eliminate every single atom of a substance, the RoHS Directive states that a material must not be present above a specified percentage weight in what is known as an homogenous material. This figure is set at 0.1% by weight for each of the proscribed materials, except cadmium for which the level is ten times lower at 0.01%.

Although the RoHS Directive only applies to products put on the market in European member states, it has encouraged the adoption of related legislation around the world. Perhaps the next most well known piece of this type of legislation is the so-called 'China RoHS', which proscribes the use of the same list of materials as the European RoHS Directive but which implements the requirements in a completely different way. More recently, Norway has announced that it is considering implementing its own version of RoHS which has been given the nickname 'super-RoHS' because it includes 18 distinct chemicals rather than just the 6 covered by the European RoHS Directive. This proposed Norwegian legislation is actually more correctly referred to as the 'Prohibition of Certain Hazardous Substances in Consumer Products', and is intended to be an additional chapter of the Norwegian Products Legislation. The Prohibition is directed at all products intended for consumers or reasonably expected to be used by consumers. So, although electronic and electrical equipment is included, it actually has a much broader scope.

3.4 Other Examples of Legislation

Although there are number of other pieces of Producer Responsibility legislation that may have some impact on the management of electronic waste, the two that are perhaps most likely to be of interest in the immediate future are the Energy-using Products Directive and the REACH Chemical Regulations (more details on REACH can be obtained from the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki). The EuP Directive is a framework directive that harmonises requirements concerning the design of equipment. The eco-design component of the Directive requires manufacturers to consider the entire lifecycle of specific product groups and to assess the ecological profile of the equipment. This includes carrying out a lifecycle analysis of equipment which considers:

• raw materials • acquisition • manufacturing • packaging, transport and distribution • installation and maintenance • use • end of life

For each part of this process, manufacturers will be required to assess the consumption of materials and energy, emissions to air and water, pollution, expected waste and recycling/re-use. Thus, the EuP Directive (EuP) encourages the electronics industry to adopt a more holistic approach to the way it manufactures its products, with emphasis being placed on all aspects of a product's lifecycle from eco-design to end of life. The encouragement of eco-design principles will lead to the integration of environmental considerations during the design phase of a product, e.g. the best way to improve its environmental performance and to achieve more sustainable product development. Manufacturers and consumers should be able to benefit from better designed, more efficient products both economically and through the better use of finite resources. The European Parliament and the Council adopted a final text for the EuP Directive 2005/32/EC in July 2005. Actual measures are being decided on a product-by-product basis under the supervision of a designated panel of EU member state experts as part of the so-called 'fast-track comitology procedure'. Priority products include heating, electric motors, lighting and domestic appliances. Ultimately, this framework directive will cover all products consuming energy, apart from motor vehicles, and it is thought that these could account for 40% of the carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming, which are to be reduced under the Kyoto Protocol. New materials and processes will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role in helping to achieve legislative compliance.


Excerpted from Electronic Waste Management by R.E. Hester, R.M. Harrison. Copyright © 2009 Royal Society of Chemistry. Excerpted by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry.
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Paper copy received - excellent review.

Meet the Author

The series has been edited by Professors Hester and Harrison since it began in 1994.

Professor Roy Harrison OBE is listed by ISI Thomson Scientific (on ISI Web of Knowledge) as a Highly Cited Researcher in the Environmental Science/Ecology category. He has an h-index of 54 (i.e. 54 of his papers have received 54 or more citations in the literature). In 2004 he was appointed OBE for services to environmental science in the New Year Honours List. He was profiled by the Journal of Environmental Monitoring (Vol 5, pp 39N-41N, 2003). Professor Harrison’s research interests lie in the field of environment and human health. His main specialism is in air pollution, from emissions through atmospheric chemical and physical transformations to exposure and effects on human health. Much of this work is designed to inform the development of policy.

Now an emeritus professor, Professor Ron Hester's current activities in chemistry are mainly as an editor and as an external examiner and assessor. He also retains appointments as external examiner and assessor / adviser on courses, individual promotions, and departmental / subject area evaluations both in the UK and abroad.

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