Life cycle assessment of the collection, transport and recycling of various types of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in Norway shows that small amounts of critical materials (refrigerants, precious/trace metals) are vital for the overall environmental accounts of the value chains. High-quality recycling ensures that materials and energy are effectively recovered from WEEE. This recovery means that responsible waste handling confers net environmental benefits in terms of global warming potential (GWP), for all types of WEEE analysed. For refrigeration equipment, the potential reduction of GWP by high-quality recycling is so large as to be of national significance. For all waste types, the magnitude of the net benefit from recovering materials and energy exceeds the negative consequences of irresponsible disposal. One outcome of this may be widespread misunderstanding of the need for recycling. Furthermore, framing public communication on recycling in terms of avoiding negative consequences, as is essentially universal, may not convey an appropriate message. The issue is particularly important where the consumer regards products as relatively disposable and environmentally benign, and/or where the "null option" of retaining the product at end-of-life is especially prevalent. The paper highlights the implications of all these issues for policy-makers, waste collectors and recyclers, and consumers.
Keywords: Decision-making; Environmental impact; LCA; Recycling; Waste electronics.
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