Electronic and electrical products contain a number of hazardous substances, including lead, mercury and other metals, flame retardants and certain phthalates. These hazardous substances can impact human health and the environment through all stages of the life-cycle: During material extraction and manufacturing, workers and their surrounding communities may come into direct contact with hazardous chemicals which can result in significant adverse effects, including high cancer rates.
During the use phase of a product, hazardous chemicals may be released from electronics and lead to exposure of consumers and the environment. Further downstream, hazardous chemicals can be released from e-waste during disposal and recycling, directly affecting workers and entering ecosystems by contaminating the air, water and soil and entering food chains (Global Chemicals Outlook II). While informal e-waste operations are among the world’s most hazardous occupations, exposure to toxic substances is common even in formalized e-waste recycling in developed countries (Global Chemicals Outlook II).
The consumer electronic market continues to grow rapidly, and it has been estimated that the global electronic chemical and materials marked will grow from 22 billion USD in 2014 to 30.5 billion USD by 2020 (Global Chemicals Outlook II).
In light of these considerations, hazardous chemicals in electronics and electrical products have been a priority sector within the work on chemicals in products by the Strategic Approach on Chemicals Management (SAICM). A current project aims at accelerating the adoption of measures by governments and value chain stakeholders to reduce the use of chemicals of concern in electronics products.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) has been working with the secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and UNEP International Environmental Technology Centre to lead activities in this area to date. ICCM3 endorsed the addition to the Global Plan of Action of new activities related to hazardous substances within the life cycle of electrical and electronic products, including the work areas of e-products green design, environmentally sound manufacturing of e-products and awareness-raising for e-products.
In addition, ICCM3 agreed to continue to work to identify, compile and create an international set of best practice resources on topics in this area, drawing on existing initiatives and opportunities for collaboration within the Strategic Approach and with other international forums.