The global impact of e-waste: Addressing the challenge

This paper explores the volumes, sources and flows of e-waste, the risks it poses to e-waste workers and the environment, occupational safety and health issues, labour issues and regulatory frameworks, and links this growing global problem with the International Labour Organization’s current and future work.


E-waste is currently the largest growing waste stream. It is hazardous, complex and expensive to treat in an environmentally sound manner, and there is a general lack of legislation or enforcement surrounding it. Today, most e-waste is being discarded in the general waste stream.

Of the e-waste in developed countries that is sent for recycling, 80 per cent ends up being shipped (often illegally) to developing countries to be recycled by hundreds of thousands of informal workers. Such globalization of e-waste has adverse environmental and health implications.

This paper will elaborate on the issues posed by e-waste, the scale of its use, destinations for the trans-boundary trade flow in e-waste, risks to workers, labour and employment issues, chemicals of concern, OSH aspects, and the legal framework. It will take a systems analysis approach to the problem, explore solutions and suggest possible pathways for ILO intervention.