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Information on Chemicals in Electronic Products

A study of needs, gaps, obstacles and solutions to provide and access information on chemicals in electronic products

image of Information on Chemicals in Electronic Products

Many chemicals used in the electronics sector have negative consequences for human and environmental health. These include chemicals such as lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants, halogenated flame retardants, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and phthalates. Typical electronic waste handling practices in developing countries are detrimental to the health of workers, their environment, and their communities. There are issues associated also with formal recycling in modern facilities, and the production phase is often problematic as well, with electronics workers potentially being exposed to carcinogens and reproductive toxicants. In addition, it is becoming apparent that recycling of valuable materials must be made more efficient as the price of virgin materials, metals, and minerals increases and their availability decreases. The problems are exacerbated by the fact that there has been a rapid increase in sales of electronics in the past several years, making e-waste one of the fastest-growing waste streams today. In order to minimize any potential risks to human or environmental health, electronics stakeholders in different stages of the life cycle of electronic products need information on what chemicals are present in the products, their properties, use and potential risks. This report studies the extent to which existing information systems meet the needs of different stakeholder groups, highlights information gaps and obstacles and discusses potential solutions to optimize the flow of information on chemicals in electronics. The report is carried out within the UNEP project on Chemicals in Products.

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Discussion and recommendations

Hazardous chemicals used in the electronics sector contribute to negative consequences for human health and the environment. This is especially, but not exclusively, true in the case of the inappropriate e-waste handling that is prevalent in many developing countries, where hazardous chemicals used in electronics often end up were they were not intended, leading to detrimental effects to the health of workers, their communities and the environment. As the prices of virgin materials, metals, and minerals increase and their availability decreases, it is becoming apparent that recycling of valuable materials must be made more efficient and effective. However, although informal waste handling is usually the focus when discussing any adverse environmental impacts of electronics, there are well-documented problems associated also with formal recycling in modern facilities.

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