Driving sustainable circular economy in electronics: A comprehensive review on environmental life cycle assessment of e-waste recycling

Yifeng He, Mohammadali Kiehbadroudinezhad, Homa Hosseinzadeh-Bandbafha, Vijai Kumar Gupta, Wanxi Peng, Su Shiung Lam, Meisam Tabatabaei, Mortaza Aghbashlo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


E-waste, encompassing discarded materials from outdated electronic equipment, often ends up intermixed with municipal solid waste, leading to improper disposal through burial and incineration. This improper handling releases hazardous substances into water, soil, and air, posing significant risks to ecosystems and human health, ultimately entering the food chain and water supply. Formal e-waste recycling, guided by circular economy models and zero-discharge principles, offers potential solutions to this critical challenge. However, implementing a circular economy for e-waste management due to chemical and energy consumption may cause environmental impacts. Consequently, advanced sustainability assessment tools, such as Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), have been applied to investigate e-waste management strategies. While LCA is a standardized methodology, researchers have employed various routes for environmental assessment of different e-waste management methods. However, to the authors’ knowledge, there lacks a comprehensive study focusing on LCA studies to discern the opportunities and limitations of this method in formal e-waste management strategies. Hence, this review aims to survey the existing literature on the LCA of e-waste management under a circular economy, shedding light on the current state of research, identifying research gaps, and proposing future research directions. It first explains various methods of managing e-waste in the circular economy. This review then evaluates and scrutinizes the LCA approach in implementing the circular bioeconomy for e-waste management. Finally, it proposes frameworks and procedures to enhance the applicability of the LCA method to future e-waste management research. The literature on the LCA of e-waste management reveals a wide variation in implementing LCA in formal e-waste management, resulting in diverse results and findings in this field. This paper underscores that LCA can pinpoint the environmental hotspots for various pathways of formal e-waste recycling, particularly focusing on metals. It can help address these concerns and achieve greater sustainability in e-waste recycling, especially in pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical pathways. The recovery of high-value metals is more environmentally justified compared to other metals. However, biometallurgical pathways remain limited in terms of environmental studies. Despite the potential for recycling e-waste into plastic or glass, there is a dearth of robust background in LCA studies within this sector. This review concludes that LCA can offer valuable insights for decision-making and policy processes on e-waste management, promoting environmentally sound e-waste recycling practices. However, the accuracy of LCA results in e-waste recycling, owing to data requirements, subjectivity, impact category weighting, and other factors, remains debatable, emphasizing the need for more uncertainty analysis in this field.
Original languageEnglish
Article number123081
Number of pages28
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Early online date14 Dec 2023
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Feb 2024

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  • circular economy
  • E-waste
  • environmental life cycle assessment
  • Recycling
  • sustainable electronics
  • Environmental life cycle assessment impacts
  • Circular economy
  • Sustainable electronics


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