Tracking Global Flows of E-Waste Additives by Using Substance Flow Analysis, with a Case Study in China

Nicoleta Suciu, Ettore Capri, Marco Trevisan, H. Tien, S. Heise, X. Seguí, J. Casal, R. M. Darbra, M. Schuhmacher, M. Nadal, J. Rovira

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Citations (Scopus)


The stream of obsolete electric and electronic devices is constantly growing. According to an estimation of Zoeteman et al. [1], this increase ranges from 3 to 5 % each year and it is suspected to add up to a volume of 20 to50 million tons of obsolete appliances every year [2]. A large amount of waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) is shipped overseas to China, India and Western Africa for recycling. The often practiced “informal recycling”, done in many cases without proper equipment (e.g. for metal extraction) and labor safety, heavily affects the environment and human health not only of workers but of the inhabitants of whole stretches of land. China is the first importer of e-waste around the world. Scarcity of available data on global e-waste flows makes it difficult to establish the total amount of e-waste that arrives in China. It is important to remember that this flow of E-waste it is not just a flow of electronic devices but also a flow of the harmful substances contained in these elements like endocrine disruptors, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), etc. At the same time, with the informal recycling of the E-waste that occurs in countries like China, different pollutants can be released to the environmental compartments. This presentation shows the e-waste flow to and in China as calculated by a substance flow analysis (SFA) includeing the following steps: a) Identification of global transportation routes b) Research on the composition of typical e-waste exports with identification of priority groups with reference to WEEE-Directive categories c) Compilation of the chemical composition of the single categories with a special focus on lead and brominated flame retardants (PBDEs and TBBPA) Entering into detail into some of the WEEE-Directive categories, single products such as computers and TVs, have been also studied in detail. Amounts of waste for these two appliances have been found and information about the content of lead, PBDEs and mercury in their components is presented. From here, it has also been possible to develop particular scenarios for the different combinations (i.e. lead in Computers) and establish the emission values to each environmental compartment after the informal recycling conducted in China. The release data derived from the SFA and the individual scenarios is the basis for the future approaches to model the environmental fate and behavior of the released substances.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Risk-Based Management of Chemical Additives II: Risk-Based Assessment and Management Strategies
EditorsB Bilitewsky
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • e-waste
  • substance flow analysis


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