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Highly Hazardous Elements in Mobile Phones

Written By mediavigil on Thursday, November 20, 2008 | 8:09 PM

Assessment of toxicity potential of metallic elements in discarded electronics: A case study of mobile phones in China

The electronic waste (e-waste) is increasingly flooding Asia, especially China. E- waste could precipitate a growing volume of toxic input to the local environment if it was not handed properly. This makes the evaluation of environmental impact from electronics an essentially important task for the life cycle assessment (LCA) and the end-of-life management of electronic products. This study presented a quantitative investigation on the environmental performance of typical electronics. Two types of disposed mobile phones (MPs), as a representative of consumer electronics, were evaluated in terms of toxicity potential indicator (TPI) with an assumption of worst- case scenario. It is found that the composition and the percentages of constituents in MPs are similar. More than 20 metallic elements make up 35 wt.%–40 wt.% of the total weight, of which 12 elements are identified to be highly hazardous and 12 are less harmful. With the TPI technique, the environmental performance of Pb is attributed to be 20.8 mg−1. The total TPIs of metallic elements in the old and new type MP is 255,403 and 127,639 units, respectively, which is equivalent to the effect of releasing 6.14 and 12.28 g Pb into the environment. The average TPI of the old and new type MP is 4.1 and 4.5 mg−1, respectively, which suggests a similar eco- efficiency per unit mass. The new model of MP is more eco-effective than the old one, which is not due to a reduction in the type of hazardous elements, but rather due to a significant miniaturization of the package with less weight. A single MP can have a considerable toxicity to the environment as referred to Pb, which suggests a major concern for the environmental impact of the total e-waste with a huge quantity and a heavy mass in China.


B.Y. Wu a , Y.C. Chan a , A. Middendorf b , X. Gu a and H.W. Zhong a
aEPA Centre, City University of Hong Kong, 83#, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong 852, China
bDepartment of Environmental Engineering, Fraunhofer IZM, Gustav-Meyer-Allee 25, 13355 Berlin, Germany
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