The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has elaborated options for action policymakers can take to address chemicals of concern in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). The report underscores the importance of addressing chemicals of concern in EEE during earlier production stages, such as design or manufacturing, to minimize potential impacts downstream.

Global production and consumption of EEE has become indispensable in today’s world, according to the report, which explains that the total weight of global EEE consumption (excluding photovoltaic panels) increases by about 2.5 million metric tons per year, leading to an increase in raw material extraction and associated pollution. Furthermore, e-waste is one of the world’s fastest growing waste streams, with the amount expected to grow to about 75 million tons per year by 2030. However, only 17.4% of e-waste generated globally in 2019 was documented as formally collected and recycled.

Some chemicals used in EEE are hazardous and may be released during production, use, transport, and end-of-life treatment, including disposal or recycling, leading to environmental and human exposure and possible adverse impacts. Informal recycling and disposal at end-of-life stages can lead to significant releases of chemical pollutants, impacting the local environment and human health, particularly women and children and communities living in the vicinity of recycling operations. 

The report highlights three key areas for taking and supporting upstream action on chemicals of concern in EEE:

  • Regulation explicitly addressing chemicals of concern in EEE, which can advance innovation on safer alternatives;
  • Further integrating action on chemicals of concern in EEE into policies on sustainable consumption and production and into actions towards a more circular economy; and
  • Policymakers playing a central role in supporting voluntary action to address chemical of concern at upstream value chain stages taken by other stakeholders, including industry or civil society organizations (CSOs). 

The paper then proposes concrete options for action for policymakers targeted at upstream stages of the value chain. The options span the three key areas and build on opportunities outlined in the 2019 Global Chemicals Outlook II and UNEP’s 2020 Assessment Report on Issues of Concern, as well as on work under the project, ‘Global Best Practices on Emerging Chemical Policy Issues of Concern under SAICM,’ funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The options for actions relate to:

  • Enhancing coordinated and coherent regulation of chemicals of concern in EEE;
  • Strengthening knowledge and closing regulatory data gaps on chemicals in EEE;
  • Increasing transparency on chemicals along the entire value chain;
  • Aligning action on chemicals of concern in EEE with sustainable consumption and production and circular economy policies; and
  • Strengthening innovation and voluntary initiatives for reducing or eliminating the use of chemicals of concern and their releases into the environment along the product life cycle.

The options are intended to offer guidance on possible entry points for taking action to address the issue, keeping in mind that their applicability and prioritization depend on national contexts and capacities. While the three key areas are generally considered complementary, individual actions can be cross-cutting, with the additional potential for actions in one key area to create spill-over effects in other key areas. For example, actions taken by policymakers to improve transparency on chemicals of concern in EEE along the value chain can strengthen regulatory action, but also support a shift towards improved circularity of material streams or facilitate the development of a voluntary eco-label by a CSO.

The fifth meeting of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5) will address chemicals of concern, including in EEE, in September in Bonn, Germany, following a two-year postponement due to COVID-19. [Publication: Addressing Chemicals of Concern in Electrical and Electronic Equipment: Options for Action for Policymakers] [Publication Landing Page