A study takes a wide-ranging look at the health and environmental impacts of improperly managed scrap electronics, and it suggests ways the whole value chain can work to solve the problems.

The analysis, slated to be published in the journal Environment International in January, is entitled “Has the question of e-waste opened a Pandora’s box? An overview of unpredictable issues and challenges.” It was written by researchers from Harvard University, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Canada’s Université de Montréal,

One of the authors, Diana Ceballos of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has conducted research into hazards from toxic substances at e-scrap recycling facilities. Earlier this year, she co-authored a paper about using wipe-sampling techniques to test for lead in e-scrap facilities and other locations. She spoke at E-Scrap 2016 about earlier work she did regarding worker exposure to toxic substances at facilities.

The latest paper takes a high-level look at the global issue of e-scrap management and details known toxics and their effects on the human body. It points to testing of polluted recycling sites not just in developing countries but also in the U.S. and Western Europe.

“To the best of our knowledge,” the authors write, “this is the first paper to adopt a holistic approach that exposes the extreme complexity of the issues, challenges and gaps (including human health concerns and environmental degradation) associated with the tricky e-waste question, and that suggests potential solutions, both upstream and downstream.”

The upstream solutions include reducing the use of potentially toxic compounds in electronics, decreasing volumes of end-of-life electronics via consumer education and OEM commitments, and improving device recyclability, according to the authors.

For downstream solutions, they point to reducing the illegal e-scrap trade, improving enforcement of domestic laws, integrating the informal recycling sector into the recycling system, and expanding formal e-scrap collection and recycling activities.

“Downstream solutions should also include specific efforts to improve e-recycling technologies in terms of efficiency, affordability and environmental performance, in particular, by combining and integrating various recycling technologies to address e-waste complexity,” the study notes.

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Computer Associates