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Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 1, 2014

E-waste: impacts, issues and management strategies

Mumtaz Hussain and Saniea Mumtaz


The present electronic era has seen massive proliferation of electrical and electronic equipment especially during the last two decades. These gadgets have become indispensable components of human life. The gravity of this sensitive 21st century problem is being felt by relevant stakeholders from the community to global level. Consequently, the annual global generation of e-waste is estimated to be 20–50 million tons. According to the Basel Action Network, 500 million computers contain 287 billion kilograms (kg) plastics; 716.7 million kg lead; and 286,700 kg mercury. These gadgets contain over 50 elements from the periodic table. The lethal components include heavy metals (like cadmium, mercury, copper, nickel, lead, barium, hexavalent chromium and beryllium); phosphor; plastics; and brominated flame retardants. These are persistent, mobile, and bioaccumulative toxins that remain in the environment but their forms are changed and are carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens. The ensuing hazardous waste has created deleterious impacts on physical, biological and socioeconomic environments. The lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere of Earth are being gravely polluted. Human beings and other biodiversity face fatal diseases, such as cancer, reproductive disorders, neural damages, endocrine disruptions, asthmatic bronchitis, and brain retardation. Marginal populations of developing countries living in squatter/slums are most vulnerable. Numerous issues are associated with uncontrolled generation, unscientific and environmentally inappropriate recycling processes for the extraction of heavy and precious metals (e.g., gold, platinum, and silver), illegal transboundary shipments from advanced to developing countries and weak conventions/legislations at global and national levels. Although the Basel Convention has been ratified by most countries, illicit trading/trafficking of hazardous substances remains unchecked, sometimes “disguised” as donations. The fact of matter is that vested business interests have surpassed ethical values. Existing scenarios of unbridled e-waste generation has attained alarming levels for humanity. This warrants immediate attention by public and private sectors, civil society, NGOs, industrialists and the business community for the protection of nature and natural resources from future destruction. Multipronged strategies need to be adopted for the management of e-waste encompassing administrative, technical, environmental, regulatory, legislative, educative, stakeholders’ participation and global cooperation.

Corresponding author: Mumtaz Hussain, Society for Conservation of Environment and Sustainable Development, E-mail:


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Received: 2014-1-16
Accepted: 2014-1-16
Published Online: 2014-4-1
Published in Print: 2014-4-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston