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Environmental group warns of health risks posed by mixing e-waste with regular trash

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By Chito Chavez

An environmental group asked the public never to mix electronic-waste (e-waste) with regular waste to prevent toxic contents from penetrating and polluting the ecosystem that poses human health risks.

Pollution and toxic watchdog EcoWaste Coalition issued the call about safe e-waste management following the release of a new report indicating that only 20 percent of the 50 million tons of e-waste produced globally is recycled.

(MANILA BULLETIN)

(MANILA BULLETIN)

According to the report “A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot,” “less than 20 percent of e-waste is formally recycled, with 80 percent either ending up in landfill or being informally recycled – much of it by hand in developing countries, exposing workers to hazardous and carcinogenic substances such as mercury, lead, and cadmium.”

Published by the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the UN E-Waste Coalition, the report said that “e-waste can be toxic, is not biodegradable, and accumulates in the environment, in the soil, air, water, and living things.”

E-waste is defined as anything with a plug, electric cord or battery (including electrical and electronic equipment) from toasters to toothbrushes, smartphones, fridges, laptops and LED televisions that has reached the end of its life, as well as the components that make up these end-of-life products.

“When it is not being stored in cellars, drawers and cabinets, e-waste is often incinerated or dumped in landfills, or makes its way around the world to be pulled apart by hand or burned by the world’s poorest, to the detriment of health and the environment,” the report said.

EcoWaste Coalition said the report should encourage stakeholders to sit down anew to review current regulations and practices leading to increased e-waste prevention and reduction efforts in the Philippines.

“Although the law, specifically R.A. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, considers e-waste as special waste requiring separate handling, we often find e-waste mixed with regular trash or simply dumped in street corners,” observed Primo Morillo, E-Waste campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“We need a functional system for e-waste collection nationwide that will keep toxic pollutants from this waste stream from entering the environment through improper handling, recycling or disposal.  Children, women, and workers are most susceptible to the health risks of unsafe e-waste management,” he added.

Considering the moves by China, and most recently, Thailand, to ban the entry of electronic and plastic wastes from abroad, Morillo said “we feel the urgency of tightening our country’s current regulations that still allow the importation of so-called recyclable materials and surpluses.”

Strengthened e-waste regulations and improved e-waste management practices in the country, the EcoWaste Coalition said, will be in sync with the ongoing safe e-waste management program led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, a member of the UN E-Waste Coalition.

PACE and the UN E-Waste Coalition called for an overhaul of the current electronics system, emphasizing the need for a circular economy in which resources are not extracted, used and discarded, but valued and reused in ways that minimize environmental impacts and create decent and sustainable jobs.

Solutions identified by PACE and the UN E-Waste Coalition include durable product design, buy-back and return systems for used electronics, ‘urban mining’ to extract metals and minerals from e-waste, and the ‘dematerialization’ of electronics by replacing outright device ownership with rental and leasing models in order to maximize product reuse and recycling opportunities.

“It’s time for the electronics industry to clean up and substitute hazardous chemicals and processes with substances and procedures that present less, or no risk, to health and the environment,” EcoWaste Coalition stressed.

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