Electronic Waste Management: Design, Analysis, and Application edited by Ronald E.Hester and Roy M.Harrison . New York : Springer , 2009 , 150 pp., ISBN 9780854041121 , $119 .

The population of the planet has exploded 840%, from about 800 million in 1800 A.D. to 6.7 billion 200 years later. The rate at which waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is now being generated is keeping pace with this population explosion; most of this equipment is currently being generated in developed countries. But some 80% of the world's population lives in the emerging nations, where some 400 million cell phones and millions of computers are already in operation. The authors of this book project that the rate of increase in WEEE is unsustainable and raises special concerns because it involves highly toxic metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and chromium.

The authors of Electronic Waste Management: Design, Analysis, and Application document an astonishing array of efforts to find solutions to this problem, which they have researched and integrated in substantial detail. Writing a book on this topic is difficult, as the field is changing rapidly, so some generalizations are only a snapshot; the book is most useful when it documents what has and what has not worked, in terms of both engineering and legislative attempts at control. This book is an edited collection of articles on electronic waste management, part of the Springer book series Issues in Environmental Science and Technology. Both the book and the series are edited by two British chemistry professors, Ronald Hester and Roy Harrison. The book has nine chapters addressing the material composition of WEEE, recycling and disposal methods, and management and policy strategies.

The authors document in remarkable detail the varied nature of the materials involved in the production of large and small household appliances, telecommunications devices, consumer equipment, tools, lighting, and other miscellaneous applications, together with the processes by which they are made. They analyze specific electrical and electronic systems, such as cathode ray tubes and TVs, that involve a spectrum of magnetic and diamagnetic metals, fiber composites, high-impact plastics, rare earth metals, copper windings, paper, and glass. Some of these components have significant value if segregated but require special handling. A wide spectrum of size and weight complicates the problem, requiring consumer presorting for any type of economic recovery. There is no question, however, that mixed material recycling is technically feasible when economic.

The recycling process for a multiple-component product involves shredding for size reduction, followed by air segregation-out of lighter plastic and paper materials. Diamagnetic materials are eddy-current ejected from a moving platform, and ferrous metals are magnetically captured. Unfortunately, the capital intensity, power, operating, and maintenance costs often substantially exceed the values recovered. Selective hand disassembly of a product can recover more valuable components for reuse or redesign for other uses; this has been demonstrated on a small scale, and the practice is growing in developing countries. It could be expanded if supply chain collection and distribution capabilities could be established.

The authors also describe types of legislation that have been enacted to proscribe or modify certain activities and the procedures for operating collection and reclaim centers for presorted waste. Also, to assist life cycle waste reduction, governments have enacted legislation to require manufacturers to track globally outsourced and marketed products over their lifetime and retrieve them for recycling. Obvious barriers exist to compliance with such legislation, however. Public apathy is a major stumbling block, and it is difficult to track products sold in many countries. Also, tax incentives have had limited success, and tax penalties have been difficult to impose. Such legislation has been only moderately effective, and a great many of the efforts have been unnecessarily redundant.

In documenting these attempts, the authors have provided a valuable reference to help others avoid costly further repetition of unsuccessful efforts. They point out that European countries and Japan have been particularly sensitive to the unsustainable rate of e-waste generation occurring in already developed countries, and they document models of regulatory legislation and of product recovery and reuse initiatives that have had some success—and failure in reducing the rate of increase in those countries. Unfortunately, landfill often remains the only pragmatic method of e-waste disposal. The authors suggest that progress might result from much increased publicity coupled with incrementally introduced restrictive legislation. The exponential rate at which e-waste materials are being generated, however, seems to far exceed any remedial efforts yet envisioned.