Developing Comprehensive Solutions to E-Waste: Thailand



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:

  1. 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).
  2. Perform an on-site evaluation of recycling and disposal techniques and their potential human, ecological, and economic impacts.
  3. Engage with the manufacturers to identify novel mechanisms for identifying and returning waste to the manufacturer for regulated recycling.
  4. 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.
  5. Assessment of long-term community and business sustainability and probable acceptance by participating electronics manufacturers and formal and informal e-waste recycling entities.
  6. 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.

Additional information can be found at our e-waste project website.