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• Large equipment. These are large home and office

equipment such as washing machines, electric stoves,

large printing machines, copying equipment and

photovoltaic panels.

• Small equipment. Typical equipment comprises

vacuum cleaners, microwaves, ventilation equipment,

toasters, electric kettles, electric shavers, scales,

calculators, radio sets, video cameras, electrical and

electronic toys, small electrical and electronic tools,

small medical devices, small monitoring and control


• Small IT and telecommunication equipment. This

category includes mobile phones, GPS, pocket

calculators, routers, personal computers, printers,


(Source: The Global E-Waste Monitor 2014, United Nations

University, IAS – SCYCLE, Bonn, Germany)


In recent times, policymakers, producers and recyclers in

various countries have created specialised ‘take-back and

treatment’ systems to collect e-waste from owners and

process it in proper treatment facilities. However, these

efforts in the collection and state-of-the-art treatment

of e-waste is limited, and most nations are still without

such e-waste management systems. There remains a

significant portion of e-waste that is not being collected

and treated in an environmentally-sound manner.

E-waste contains valuable materials, and this draws

individuals or groups of collectors to collect e-waste and

extract valuable substances, components or parts and sell

them to the recycling industry. What is of concern is that

the treatment process of e-waste is hazardous to human

health and the environment. Moreover, those who handle

e-waste informally are usually neither well aware of

nor trained in environmentally sound management of

e-waste, occupational safety and health (OSH), and other

decent work standards applicable to this field.

Further, some of the world’s e-waste is shipped

over great distances to developing countries where

rudimentary and inefficient techniques are often used

to extract materials and components or parts. These

‘backyard’ techniques pose dangers to ill protected

workers and the local natural environment. World-wide

trading of electronics and substandard recycling in

developing countries has led to environmental disasters

in places like Guiyu, China and Agbogbloshie, and Ghana.

Source: 1. The global impact of e-waste: addressing the challenge / Karin Lundgren; International Labour Office, Programme on Safety

and Health at Work and the Environment (SafeWork), Sectoral Activities Department (SECTOR). – Geneva: ILO, 2012

2. Grant K et al. Health consequences of exposure to e-waste: a systematic review on health effects of e.waste. The Lancet.

Table 1: Chemicals of primary concern in e-waste

Elements Component Of Electrical And

Electronic Equipment


Source Of


Health Concerns


Switches, springs, connectors, printed

circuit boards, batteries, infrared

detectors, semi-conductor chips,

ink or toner photocopying machines,

cathode ray tubes, and mobile phones

Air, dust, soil,

water, and food.

(especially rice

and vegetables)

Has toxic, irreversible effects on human health and accumulates in

kidney and liver (op. cit.). Has toxic effects on the kidney, the skeletal

system and the respiratory system, and is classified as a human

carcinogen (WHO, 2010c).


or hexavalent


Anticorrosion coatings, data tapes,

and floppy disks

Air, dust, water,

and soil.

Damages kidneys, the liver and DNA. Asthmatic bronchitis has been

linked to this substance (Osuagwu & Ikerionwu, 2010).

Causes irritation of the respiratory system (asthma) and skin, liver

and kidney damage, increased or reduced blood leukocytes,

eosinophilia, eye injury, and is a known carcinogen (lung cancer).


Printed circuit boards, cathode

ray tubes, light bulbs, televisions

(1·5–2·0 kg per monitor), and


Air, dust, water,

and soil.

Causes damage to central and peripheral nervous systems, blood

systems and kidneys, and affects the brain development of children

(Osuagwu & Ikerionwu, 2010).

A cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including

the neurological, haematological, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and

renal systems (WHO, 2010e).



Air, soil, water,

and food


Extremely hazardous in case of ingestion as it passes through the

placenta. It is hazardous and an irritant of the skin and eye, and

when inhaled.

Lithium can be excreted in maternal milk (Material Safety Data



Thermostats, sensors, monitors,

cells, printed circuit boards, and

cold cathode fluorescent lamps

(1–2 g per device)

Air, vapour,

water, soil,

and food (bio


in fish)

Elemental and methyl-mercury are toxic to the central and peripheral

nervous system. Inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful

effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and

kidneys, and may be fatal. The inorganic salts of mercury are

corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce

kidney toxicity if ingested (WHO, 2007)



Air, soil, water,

and food


Slightly hazardous in case of skin contact, ingestion and inhalation.

May be toxic to kidneys, lungs, liver and upper respiratory tract. Also

have carcinogenic effects. (Material Safety Data Sheet, 2005)


Cathode ray tubes, and metal


Air, water, and


Contact with eyes can cause irritation; powdered zinc is highly

flammable (University of Oxford, 2005); if inhaled, causes a cough,

and if ingested, abnominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting is common

(ICSC database, nd.)