27 January 2020

WEEE management book offers insights into plastics

BOOK REVIEW: Recycling expert and senior member of ISWA, Jeff Cooper, reviews the recently published book ‘Electronic Waste Management’, which is edited by Gev H Eduljee and R M Harrison. The title is part of a series looking at issues in environmental science and technology.

This collation of chapters around the theme of the management of items of electronic waste gives a global perspective of the main issues that need to be addressed to ensure effective management of these products from initial design through to end of life treatment.  This updated volume contains new chapters, data and perspectives compared with the first edition. Authors come from a variety of countries and also backgrounds, but most are specialists in hazardous waste management.

The book has two editors. One is Dr Gev Eduljee, currently a non-executive director at Bristol-based consultancy Resource Futures, although he is best known in his previous role as Director of External Affairs at SUEZ Recycling & Recovery UK.  He has worked in hazardous waste management and as advisor to Defras Advisory Committee on Packaging and Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances.  The second is Professor Roy Harrison, a specialist in environmental health at the University of Birmingham.  He is also an advisor at Defra on Air Quality and is on the Department of Health Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants and its Committee on Toxicity.

The book comprises:

  • Introduction and overview
  • Materials used in manufacturing electrical and electronic products
  • A circular economy for consumer electronics
  • An overview of electronic waste management in the UK
  • Management of electronic waste in Africa
  • Electronic waste management in the Asia Pacific Region
  • Traceability of electronic waste using blockchain technology
  • Electronics: a broken story about production and consumption
  • The recycling of lithium-ion batteries: current and potential approaches
  • Environmentally sustainable solvent-based process chemistry for metals in circuit boards
  • Plastics in electronic waste: results from the PlyCE project

Leakage

Despite ever tighter controls being introduced by the EU and others covering hazardous waste exports from developed states to less developed states, there is still a huge leakage of WEEE and UEEE (used EEE), intended for further use, with disastrous consequences, socially and environmentally.  These aspects are most graphically depicted by Professors Oladele Osibanjo and Margaret Bates in their chapter on Africa. This shows the profound damage caused by inappropriate processing of WEEE on the health of the workers, often child labour, and the wider environmental and indirect health impacts suffered by the wider community.

It was reassuring to see that the South East Asian position was covered, with in the past leakage from the Japanese EPR system which places responsibility firmly on the producer, namely the consumer, as the purchaser of the item.  Sadly, however, the approach has sometimes failed: the consumer has paid for a take-back system – where they would be expecting an effective and environmentally sound recovery route to be provided by the reverse-logistics supply chain and this has not always proved to be the case. However, this issue was not examined by the author, who focused on the legal aspects of the system rather than the potential for leakage, which has probably been minimised since this reviewer was last involved a decade ago.

Gev Eduljee of Resource Futures is one of the book’s editors

Plastics

The PLyCE project takes this book into the vexed issue of plastics in EEE and how they might be recovered and recycled.  PLyCE was a project funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding stream.  Obviously one of the main problems is the multiplicity of plastics polymers that are currently used for products, albeit for good reasons and EU legislators have chosen not to inhibit the use of new plastics polymer types, whilst placing restrictions on the older flame retardant nplastics compounds through the RoHS Directive. Although the PLyCE  research had not provided any ground-breaking perspectives the data gathered and the raised profile of this issue does provide important information that can be utilised by WEEE processors and plastics reprocessors.

Publisher

Electronic Waste Management 2019, edited by Gev H Eduljee and R M Harrison, 2nd edition, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK, 352pp, £70.00  For more information, visit Royal Society of Chemistry.

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