Technical Aspects of e-Waste Management

1st March 2022
Author: William Avis

Population growth, increasing prosperity and changing consumer habits globally are increasing demand for consumer electronics. Further to this, rapid changes in technology, falling prices, increased affordability and consumer appetite for new products have exacerbated e-waste management challenges and seen millions of tons of electronic devices become obsolete. This rapid literature review collates evidence from academic, policy focussed and grey literature on the technical aspects e-waste value chains. The report should be read in conjunction with two earlier reports on e-waste management1. E-waste is any electrical or electronic equipment, including all components, subassemblies and consumables, which are part of the equipment at the time the equipment becomes waste. The exact treatment of Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) can vary enormously according to the category of WEEE and technology that is used. Electrical and electronic items contain a wide variety of materials. As a result of this complex mix of product types and materials, some of which are hazardous (including arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury and certain flame retardants) multiple approaches to WEEE are required, each with specific technical guidelines. This report is structured as follows: Section two provides an introduction to the technical aspects of e-waste management, including a reflection on the challenges and complexities of managing a range of product types involving a range of components and pollutants. Section three provides an annotated bibliography of key readings that discuss elements of the technical aspects of managing e-waste. This bibliography includes readings on national guidelines, training manuals and technical notes produced by the Basel convention and courses. WEEE recycling can be a complex and multifaced process. In order to manage e-waste effectively, the following must be in place Legislative and regulatory frameworks Waste Prevention and minimisation guidelines Identification of waste mechanisms Sampling, analysis and monitoring expertise Handling, collection, packaging, labelling, transportation and storage guidelines Environmentally sound disposal guidelines Management is further complicated by the speed of technological advance with technologies becoming redundant much sooner than initially planned. Case studies show that the average actual lifetimes of certain electronic products are at least 2.3 years shorter than either their designed or desired lifetimes.

Download Report
Suggested Citation

Avis, W. (2022). Technical aspects of e-waste management. K4D Helpdesk Report No. 1098. Institute of Development Studies, DOI: 10.19088/K4D.2022.051


1st March 2022


Continent: Global