EAC Enquiry – Electronic waste and the circular economy

Written evidence submitted by Fidra to the Environmental Audit Committee Enquiry: Electronic waste and the Circular Economy, 2019. 

Fidra outlines evidence on the impact of harmful chemicals from electronic waste on the UK circular economy and waste streams.

Executive Summary

  • Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) contains high quantities of chemical flame retardants; TV casings have been shown to contain harmful flame retardants at concentrations up to 32.2%, almost one third of the total plastics weight.
  • Many of the organic flame retardants studied have shown serious adverse health effects, including abnormalities in neurological and reproductive development, or carcinogenic properties. Many brominated flame retardants (BFRs) have additionally been shown to exhibit endocrine disruption properties, i.e. they have adverse effects on the bodies hormone system.
  • The presence of flame retardants makes responsible recycling of products more difficult and expensive, forcing recyclers to identify and separate plastics based on chemical mixtures and potentially degrading the mechanical properties of secondary material. Despite current regulations, products made with recycled material have still been found to contain the harmful flame retardants used in electronics.
  • Waste incineration of items containing certain flame retardants can result in degradation products more toxic than the original chemical; halogenated compounds have been shown to produce toxic dioxins and furans when heated, human carcinogens listed under Annex C of the Stockholm Convention.
  • Current regulations are insufficient in safeguarding the environment and human health, with harmful flame retardants, thought to have originated from EEE, identified in food contact materials and the plastic food packaging found in marine litter.
  • Sound chemical management is essential for a healthy and functioning circular economy, this should include an end to the unnecessary use of chemicals and an end to the use of chemicals of concern for all non-essential functions.
  • Transparency and accessibility of chemical information for all users is essential to ensure safe use, reuse and recycling within a circular economy and enable informed decisionmaking at all levels from primary sale to end-of-life disposal.


Language: English

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