Bromine and chlorine are almost ubiquitous in waste of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and the knowledge of their content in the plastic fraction is an essential step for proper end of life management. The aim of this study is to compare the following analytical methods: energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (ED-XRF), ion chromatography (IC), ion-selective electrodes (ISEs), and elemental analysis for the quantitative determination of chlorine and bromine in four real samples taken from different WEEE treatment plants, identifying the best analytical technique for waste management workers. Home-made plastic standard materials with known concentrations of chlorine or bromine have been used for calibration of ED-XRF and to test the techniques before the sample analysis. Results showed that IC and ISEs, based upon dissolution of the products of the sample combustion, have not always achieved a quantitative absorption of the analytes in the basic solutions and that bromine could be underestimated since several oxidation states occur after combustion. Elemental analysis designed for chlorine determination is subjected to strong interference from bromine and required frequent regeneration and recalibration of the measurement cell. The most reliable method seemed to be the non-destructive ED-XRF. Calibration with home-made standards, having a similar plastic matrix of the samples, enabled us to carry out quantitative determinations, which have been revealed to be satisfactorily accurate and precise. In all the analyzed samples a total concentration of chlorine and/or bromine between 0.6 and 4 w/w% was detected, compromising the feasibility of a mechanical recycling and suggesting the exploration of an alternative route for managing these plastic wastes.
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