ICT Waste Handling : Regional and Global End-of-Life Treatment Scenarios for ICT Equipment
Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream today and information and communications technology (ICT) equipment make up a significant portion of all the electronics put on market. Due to the valuable, rare, and toxic material content of ICT equipment, their disposal requires proper treatment to ensure materials are recovered and harm to the surrounding environment and nearby residents is avoided. As a tool used to identify the impacts resulting from a product, life cycle assessment (LCA) requires details around the processes performed during each stage of a product’s life. LCA studies on ICT waste often assume that discarded equipment is fully recycled under formal conditions. This study investigates current ICT waste treatment practices and proposes a more reasonable end-of-life treatment scenario for use in future LCA work. The volume of ICT waste generated in each country is estimated according to reported mobile phone subscription counts, and treatment flows are investigated for the countries identified as generating the most waste in each region. National results are then aggregated to estimate regional and global end-of-life treatment scenarios.
The research indicates that developed countries properly recycle the majority of the ICT waste that is collected and treated domestically; the United States is an exception as a majority of ICT waste generated there is discarded to landfills. Developing countries tend to recycle a majority of electronic waste in informal sectors where a lack of technology and limited enforcement of regulations result in harmful waste processing activities. Waste is also exported from developed countries for treatment in developing countries. The proposed global end-of-life treatment scenario is 19% of ICT waste is recycled under formal conditions, 64% is recycled using informal methods, and the remaining 17% is discarded in landfills. Due to a lack of uncertainty, there is a clear need for more research regarding the treatment of ICT waste, especially in regards to B2B waste and export flows. A sensitivity analysis to determine the overall impact these results may have when applied to an LCA study is recommended.
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