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Concern at Empa e-waste findings

Switzerland – On studying 53 mixed plastic samples related to e-waste from 15 European countries, a research team from Empa’s Technology and Society Lab in Switzerland has discovered the presence in all the material of a wide range of high-profile heavy metals, although the concentration levels differed.

Focusing on plastic components that make up more than 20% of electrical and electronic appliances, the most commonly encountered substances in the study were restricted brominated flame retardants – which were found in plastic rear panels from cathode ray tube monitors.

Additionally, worrying concentrations of cadmium were found in small domestic appliances made of mixed plastics, with high levels of lead discovered in information and communications technology. Unsafe concentrations of lead were also found in consumer electronics.

According to the researchers, the increased concentrations of lead, in particular, are a direct result of cross-contamination from mechanical processing (by using lead from solder). To ensure these dangerous substances do not dissipate into the environment or into components for new products, the researchers urge stricter quality management until they are properly recycled or disposed of altogether.

The new data have already been incorporated into the European WEEELABEX (WEEE LABel of EXcellence) standard, which governs the collection, sorting, storage, transportation, reuse, treatment and disposal of electrical and electronic equipment.

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