With its more than 14 million inhabitants and considerable economic growth rates, the local consumption of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) is growing day by day in Bangladesh. While this growth is desirable from a development perspective and in particular regarding living standard and access to information and communication technologies (ICTs), it also raises the question on sound end-of-life solutions which are not yet in place in the country. E-waste has become the fastest growing waste stream in Bangladesh and has emerged as a lucrative business.
E-waste or waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) are loosely discarded, surplus, obsolete, broken, electrical or electronic devices. “Electronic waste (E-waste)” may be defined as all secondary electronic goods including computers, entertainment device electronics, phone sets / mobile phones, and other items such as television sets and refrigerators, whether sold, donated, or discarded by their original owners. E-waste is a popular, informal name for electronic products nearing the end of their “useful life”. The scrap ships are carrying large volume of toxics products and electrical & electronic waste, includes: antiques, barometers, clothes irons, electronics, lamps/light bulbs, light switches, paint (Latex), pesticides, television sets, thermometers, mirrors, washing machines, calculators, desktop liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors, laptop, LCD monitors, neon lights, sewer pipes, etc. Many of these products can be reused, refurbished, or recycled. Unfortunately, electronic discard is one of the growing segments of our nation’s waste stream.
The issue of E-waste mainly comes from developed countries who consider the recycling of E-waste too expensive in their own countries, and that therefore willingly send it too poor countries to handle, with very limited background check of how the E-waste will be managed. Low-income countries such Bangladesh, India, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines are often the end destination for E-waste as the difference between for example USA and Bangladesh was more than 18 dollars per computer in 2015 according the article ‘’E-waste: a challenge for sustainable development.’’ Used electronic device are also often send to poor countries to be re-used as a second-hand article or declared as material aid. According to the UNEP study, the developed nations dump e-waste in “developing” Asian countries (India, Bangladesh, China and Pakistan) through illegal trade routes. With an annual growth rate of 15-20 percent, the laptop market of Bangladesh was worth about $175 million in 2018 and 60 percent of the demand is largely meet by the import of laptop from China, Singapore, the USA, Thailand and Malaysia.
According to Bangladesh Electronic Machinery Marketing Association (BEMMA), Bangladesh consumes around 3.2 million tons of electronic products each year. Of this amount, only 20 to 30 percent is recycled and rest is dumped as obsolete or disposed of in open places, which is hazardous to health and environment. Also,
l In every year Bangladesh generated roughly 2.8 million metric tons of e-waste.
l E-waste generated from ship breaking yards alone about 2.5 million metric tons of toxics e-waste in a year.
l Bangladesh has generated 10,504 metric tons of toxics e-waste by cell phone sets within last 21 years.
l Every year around 296302 TV sets become scrape and generated 0.17 million metric tons of e-waste.
But without knowing the harmful effect of the e-waste these has dumped in to the open landfills, farming land and in the open sources of water bodies.
In Bangladesh every year more than 15% child worker died during and after effect of e-waste recycling and more than 83% are exposed by toxics substances and become sick and live with long term illness. According to ESDOs (Environment and Social Development Organization) recent study and available information, approximately (50,000) fifty thousand children’s are involved in the non-formal e-waste collection and recycling process, amongst them about 40% are involved in ship breaking yards.
Is E-waste really threat for our life and environment?
E-waste can be disposed of by burial, burning or dissolution and recovery of metals. All processes require proper containment to prevent contamination of air, groundwater, or soil with heavy metal such as lead or cadmium, or toxic combustion products. E-waste and artisanal recycling processes (which may include combustion) are a source of environmental exposure to a mixture of compounds of known toxicity, such as lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), brominated flame retardants and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as unintentional persistent contaminants, such as dioxins and furans, among others. When these chemicals are broken down in landfills, they tend to leak these hazardous materials into both the air and soil creating an extremely unhealthy environment. Thus, these can enter the human food supply, which can lead to birth defects as well as a number of other health complications.
Globally, several studies have highlighted the negative effects of exposure of high levels of the above-described compounds on working adults, pregnant women and children. E-waste caused significant increases in both IL-8 (Interleukin-8) and ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) levels- indicators of an inflammatory response and oxidative stress respectively. Both inflammatory response and oxidative stress may lead to DNA damage, which could induce on cogenesis, or even cancer. Of course, inflammatory response and oxidative stress are also associated with other diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases. The number of studies related to these exposures has increased with cytogenetic alterations in cell function and adverse health effects, including impairment of the immune, gastrointestinal and endocrine systems, perinatal complications, such as premature delivery, restricted intra-uterine growth, reduced neonatal lung function and neurobehavioral changes in the childhood. These products contain several rechargeable battery types, all of which contain toxic substances that can contaminate the environment when burned in incinerators or disposed of in landfills. The cadmium from one mobile phone battery is enough to pollute 600 cubic meter of water.
The management of e-waste is one of the greatest challenges faced by the ICT sector. This stream requires sustainable management of products at the end of their useful lives due to the environmental, social and economic implications associated with it. It is important to understand that these wastes are heterogeneous and have specific characteristics. Therefore, its management, treatment and disposal must be carried responsibly. A better understanding and management of e-waste is closely linked to SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals); Goal 3 (Good health and Well-being), Goal 6 (Clean water and Sanitation), Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), Goal 14 (Life Below Water), and Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). E-waste is a complex mixture of hazardous and non-hazardous materials that requires specialized processes of collection, transportation, segregation, treatment and disposal. Improper dismantling and processing of e-waste render it perilous to human health and our ecosystem.
In Bangladesh, the e-waste is reused, broken down for parts or disposed off completely. It should also be noted that re-cycling e-waste can save up to 70% on the energy required to mine and process new materials. Savings in energy means savings in costs and precious power resources. The present informal practice of recycling is not carried out safely and it becomes danger to human health and the surrounding environment. Not only the people of Bangladesh are not yet concerned about the hazards of e-waste but also there is lack of awareness in the government and private organizations.
Following steps may be taken for sustainable practice of e-waste management:
l Identify the inventory of E-waste in large cities of Bangladesh.
l Classify the e waste category and composition.
l Detect potential toxic substances.
l Identify the reusable component of e-wastes.
l Develop e-waste policy & guideline with consultation with the relevant stakeholders.
l Establish efficient collection system at least for selected electronic waste in waste collection program in major cities of Bangladesh.
l Waste must be collected within enclosed buildings or in secure container from appropriate collection sites. The site should be located and established in such way that it can prevent the release of hazardous materials to the environment.
l Efficient recycling plants which is associated with disassembling for component retrieval with cost effective processing of e-waste.
l Introduction of Environmental Management System in e-waste sector by conducting proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
l Establish e-waste tracking mechanism in order to update the inventory.
l Registration and capacity development of e-waste recyclers. For selecting a recycler the primary criteria are:
l Certified by proper authorities and guidelines
l Written procedures and instruction for recycling the waste
l Introducing e-waste recycling workshop, training etc.
l Most importantly the recycler has to recycle most of the collected e-waste materials (about 90%).
Public awareness raising e.g. using an electronics device to its complete life periods and introducing harmful effects by vigorous propaganda.
Hence it can be concluded that knowledge levels of the householders/ public are not that much strong regarding these toxic materials. Bangladesh currently has no specific environmental policy or act or guidelines to directly manage the e-waste problem. Though a draft regulation on ‘’E-waste management rules’’ was developed and amended in 2011 and 2017 respectively under the Environment Conservation Act, 1995, no progress in rules acceptance and implementation has been visible today. Bangladesh is a signatory to Basel convention prohibiting trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste. While the problem of e-waste and the role of informal sector in recycling them were widely discussed, there is an urgent need to conduct in-depth studies in Bangladesh. This is to help policymakers with appropriate policy instrument as well as to dispel common myths that e-waste is yet to be threat in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh the quantity and process of managing of e-waste is very rudimentary and is emerging as a huge threat. It is high time for the stakeholders to act now.
The writer is studying Environmental Science and Engineering in Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University, Trishal, Mymensingh.