A critical analysis of e-waste management and recycling in Pakistan: a life cycle assessment

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Shaikh, Salsabil ORCID: 0000-0003-2326-1759 (2021) A critical analysis of e-waste management and recycling in Pakistan: a life cycle assessment. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Electronic waste or e-waste is a global challenge of increasing significance because of the volume being generated and complexity of this waste. Pakistan, like some other developing economies, generates a significant volume of e-waste and also imports it for processing despite lacking the necessary infrastructure. While e-waste is a business opportunity for the valuable materials that are recovered, at an ecosystem level there is great cause for concern over the use of informal practices. This study is a critical analysis of e-waste management and recycling in Pakistan, using a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to examine structures, processes and costs of upstream e-waste generation1 and downstream disposal and recycling. Domestic e-waste generated annually in Pakistan is about 1,790 kilo-tons (2018-2019) and is expected to grow at 10.2% annually. Annual imported e-waste is reported to be about 95,145 tons (2011-2014 figures). Of the collective total, about 8.6% (154.8 kilo-tons) is processed using informal practices, while the remaining goes directly into landfill (13.8% or 245.6 kilo-tons), sold/given away for reuse (65.7% or 1,150 kilo-tons), or stored, which is a deferred disposal strategy. Analysis shows that informal recycling is profitable for both dismantling businesses (benefits are 1.19-1.27 times the costs) and extracting/refining businesses (benefits are 1.95-2.22 times the cost). For recycling workers, net economic costs per worker of about Rs.34,069 - 85,478 (USD 203–510) per month, exceed any economic benefit 2.6-4.7-fold. A methodological contribution is the application of systems thinking and causal loop modelling to strategy formulation at an industry level. A causal map shows overlapping interests and dynamic relationships in e-waste recycling in Pakistan. Four causal loops are identified. They collectively sustain current local practices in e-waste recycling. A systems-level view and pictorial representation of the e-waste situation helps to reveal contentious aspects of informal recycling, and also leverage points to improve e-waste recycling and re-engineer product development. This open-box approach, where the inner workings are exposed and illuminated, can also help policy- makers trace the chain of causality from product design to waste disposal at a fundamental level and enables consideration of primary prevention strategies at the various levels, including producers, consumers, and recyclers. Guided by the principle that what gets measured can be managed, a practical contribution of this thesis is to present a synthesis of upstream consumer and downstream business considerations. In sum, the informal recycling industry is financially lucrative, but sustained by a lack of regulatory frameworks and limited accountability for known and hidden first-, second- and third-order effects on people and the environment. These externalised costs are not measured. The industry in Pakistan can be conceptualised as being based on local practices contingent on waste value, business opportunity and perceived choice. Leverage points for fundamental, longer-term change in processes associated with waste generation, and for management and disposal of e-waste have been identified. The study develops a consolidated impact factors framework (CIFF) based on financial and non-financial (social) variables to support an analysis of factors that influence upstream generation and downstream processing of e-waste. A multi-level impact assessment framework (MIAF) and related findings can be generalised to other regions in Pakistan and to other countries that similarly generate and import e-waste, and use informal practices to process this material. Crucially, for the necessary focus on the many aspects of e-waste, the starting points are to document, regulate and go beyond return on investment when assessing performance to select multiple criteria and measure what matters.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/42515
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3801 Applied economics
Current > Division/Research > Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities
Current > Division/Research > VU School of Business
Keywords electronic waste; e-waste; recycling; Pakistan; Life Cycle Assessment; LCA; cost-benefit analysis; recycling businesses; recycling workers
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