UCI receives $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to research electronic waste

08/15/05

Interdisciplinary team will evaluate ways to minimize hazards of outdated cell phones

Irvine, Calif., Aug. 15, 2005 -- UC Irvine has been awarded a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to reduce the environmental and health dangers posed by discarded electronics like cell phones.

Led by Oladele Ogunseitan, professor of environmental health, science and policy at UCI's School of Social Ecology, an interdisciplinary team of UC researchers will identify and evaluate alternative materials that may be used in electronic devices, replacing the lead, brominated fire retardants and other toxic materials. The team also will examine the impact of dumping outdated electronics in landfills, where the hazardous chemicals in electronic waste, or "e-waste," can threaten the environment and public health, potentially leaching into the ground and water supply. This includes studying the social implications of e-waste, such as the public's willingness to pay for electronics recycling programs, and the effect of regional policies -- like the European Union's -- that limit the use of hazardous materials in electronics.

"Proliferation of cheap, small electronics like cell phones have improved communications in even the poorest of countries, so we are now faced with a worldwide problem of how to safely dispose of these electronics," said Ogunseitan. "With this grant, our goal is to develop a comprehensive model to look at materials, policies, economic factors and recycling programs that will protect the environment and public health from e-waste."

Co-principal investigators of the project include Andrew Shapiro from UCI's Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science; Jean-Daniel Saphores from UCI's Department of Planning, Policy and Design; and Julie Schoenung from UC Davis's Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science.

The grant is part of NSF's Biocomplexity in the Environment initiative, which brings together members of disparate disciplines into teams that focus on complex environmental systems. This project was funded under the Materials Use: Science, Engineering and Society topical area, which supports the design of new materials with benign environmental impacts and studies to maximize the efficient use of individual materials throughout their life cycles.

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