🌱 How many people work in the informal e-waste sector?
Only an estimated 17.4% of e-waste produced in 2019 was processed in formal recycling facilities; the rest was dumped illegally. Illegally disposed e-waste is predominantly shipped to low- or middle-income countries, where it is then commonly recycled in the informal sector. It is hard to find an estimate for the total number of informal workers, but the WHO has reported that as many as 12.9 million women, and over 18 million adolescents and children (as young as 5 years), are actively engaged in the informal e-waste sector.
🌱 How is e-waste recycled in the informal e-waste sector?
The informal e-waste sector is known for using unsafe practices. Electrical and electronic devices are dismantled by hand to reclaim valuable materials. Devices are also commonly burned in an open fire to melt away plastic coatings and other less valuable materials. Notably, workers typically do not wear protective equipment and the burning of e-waste releases highly toxic metals. Moreover, mercury and acids may be used to recover gold from the waste.
🌱 What impact does e-waste have on human health?
Workers in the informal e-waste sector are at risk of being exposed to more than 1000 harmful substances. E-waste contains a variety of hazardous materials, including heavy metals (e.g. mercury, lead, and cadmium) and other hazardous chemicals (e.g. CFCs and flame retardants). When recycled using unsafe practices, e-waste toxins commonly contaminate the air, soil, and groundwater. Exposure to toxins from e-waste increases blood lead levels, decreases lung functioning, causes abnormal thyroid function, and reduces life expectancy. Moreover, it increases stillbirths, premature births, and the risk of malformations during pregnancy.
🌱 What impact does e-waste have on the health of children?
The toxic chemicals contained in e-waste are particularly dangerous to children. Children are smaller in size, have less developed organs, are undergoing a rapid rate of growth, and have a lesser ability to eradicate toxic substances from their bodies. The health issues prevalent amongst children exposed to toxins from e-waste include lung and respiratory illnesses, impaired thyroid function, DNA damage, and increased risk of chronic diseases (such as cancer and cardiovascular disease).
Read more about the health impacts of e-waste here: