PIs: Rick Neitzel, Kowit Nambunmee, and Nirawan Sanphoti
Graduate Students: Aubrey Langeland, MS, and John Cho
Funding: University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute
Description: E-waste (electronic waste, or discarded household or business products that contain circuitry or electrical components) is a global and growing threat to human and ecosystem health. Low-income countries bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts of e-waste, as higher-income countries often export waste to be recycled or disposed of in these less expensive settings. This creates much-needed employment opportunities in low-income countries, but the informal recycling and disposal approaches currently used in these resource-constrained settings recover only a fraction of potentially recyclable materials while exposing workers and communities to hazardous agents. A number of corporations, researchers, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are evaluating upstream solutions to reducing e-waste generation, but downstream efforts are also needed to address the substantial existing occupational and public health hazards associated with e-waste. Novel, systems-based approaches incorporating information and results from previous and ongoing e-waste initiatives – both successful and unsuccessful – are needed to address these problems in a holistic manner. We therefore seek to develop a research-to-practice project to explore potential solutions that could comprehensively address the challenging and complex issues surrounding e-waste recycling and disposal. This project would have the goal of identifying solutions that are transferable to different settings. The project involves six core components:
- Develop relationships with recycling workers, the surrounding community, and government agencies and NGOs at two e-waste sites in low and middle-income countries (Thailand and Brazil).
- Perform an on-site evaluation of recycling and disposal techniques and their potential human, ecological, and economic impacts.
- Engage with the manufacturers to identify novel mechanisms for identifying and returning waste to the manufacturer for regulated recycling.
- Perform policy and financial analyses of e-waste streams and community governance options to identify policy strategies that could influence the flow of e-waste and recycling and disposal practices, as well as alternative opportunities for employment and economic development in communities with e-waste recycling activities.
- Assessment of long-term community and business sustainability and probable acceptance by participating electronics manufacturers and formal and informal e-waste recycling entities.
- Creation of a comprehensive, multi-level set of recommendations that can be implemented in diverse e-waste recycling settings to improve occupational, public, and ecosystem health and livelihood.
Only through the active involvement of academic, industry, governmental and NGO contributors from a range of disciplines can the health and environmental impacts of e-waste be minimized while simultaneously maximizing the economic benefits to low-income countries.