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A Toxics-Free Future


Frequent dumping of e-waste poses threat

The Independent

Author / Source: Anisur Rahman Khan 

Experts want electronic waste management policy

Since the government does not have a proper policy on e-waste management in place, such 'electrical and electronic waste' is being indiscriminately dumped in the country. Such practices would be disastrous for human health and the ecology, including aquatic lives, flora and fauna, experts on the subject have warned.

As the experts explained, though technological advances are making modern life easier and comfortable, they are also accompanied by a grave danger to societies in the form of e-waste. Again, the environment, children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the threat, as their immune systems are not strong enough to resist toxic elements. 

Heavy metals and toxic substances, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, zinc and chromium, are being directly released through e-waste into the environment as well as water bodies and croplands. These enter the human body through the food chain, experts told The Independent. “It is high time that a policy on the management of e-waste is formulated,” they said.

Some private research institutes, including the Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), in association with the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), have conducted research on the disposal of e-waste at the national and regional levels, and collected information on the situation of e-waste in the country in 2014. They found that the country generates 10 million tonnes of e-waste annually.

The consequence of its consumer-oriented growth, combined with rapid product obsolescence and technological advances, are a new environmental challenge: the growing menace of 'electric and electronics waste' or 'e-waste', which comprises obsolete electronic devices.

ESDO secretary general Shahriar Hossain said, "Around 10 million tonnes of e-waste were generated in the 2013–14 fiscal years. Of these, ship-breaking yards generated 8.86 million tonnes, television sets 0.86 million tonnes, computers 0.03 million tonnes, mobile phones 0.05 million tonnes, CFL bulbs 0.01 million tonnes, mercury bulbs 0.005 million tonnes, thermometers 0.0014 million tonnes, medical and dental waste 0.026 million tonnes and household electrical appliances and switches 0.16 tonnes."

“Such heavy metals and toxic substances can damage the lungs, kidneys, irritate skin and eyes, damage the nervous and circulatory systems, cause disabilities in children, cause cancer, affect the immune, reproductive and endocrine systems, and have other health effects,” Shahriar Hossain said.

According to Hossain, to obtain information on the status of e-waste generation, collection, recycling, movement and management, and the environmental threat analysis associated with human health, a survey comprising 840 sample questions was conducted for the computer and television sectors in selected sites of IDB Computer Market, Elephant Road (Dhanmondi) Computer and Electronics Market, Gulistan Electronics Market and Stadium Electronics Market areas, where computers and television sets are imported, assembled, sold, and repaired. E-waste is found in areas such as Chakbazar, Islampur, Jinzira, Babubazar and Kamrangirchar of Old Dhaka and Sitakunda of Chittagong, he added.

“There are laws in India, China, Nepal, Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam. Sri Lanka, too, has drafted a law on e-waste management, but the Bangladesh government has made no headway in this direction,” Hossain lamented.
Speaking on the subject, Poribesh Bachao Andolan's (POBA's) chairman Abu Naser Khan said: “The government should formulate regulations about dumping e-waste at designated spots. Moreover, awareness must be created about the risks of e-waste.”

Speaking in the same vein, Mustafa Jabbar, an IT expert, said: “The life expectancy of electrical and electronic goods is about a year or so. Those are then disposed of. It is unfortunate that there is no specific dumping site for e-waste.”

Quazi Sarwar Imtiaz Hashmi, director (planning) of the Department of Environment (DoE), told The Independent: “We sent policy guidelines to the law ministry on how to manage e-waste two years ago, but the ministry is yet to take any action on the matter.”

He added that a Japanese private company, Re-tem, has expressed interest to set up an e-waste recycling plant in Bangladesh, but a regulation on e-waste is required for setting up such a company.

People would have to suffer both short-run and long-term diseases because of e-waste that is being dumped indiscriminately across the country, Dr Mirza Nazim Uddin, medicine specialist and deputy medical director of Square Hospital, told The Independent.

“It would affect not just the human bodies, but also the entire ecosystem. People may suffer from respiratory problems, kidney damage, lung diseases and cancer because of e-waste,” he said in reply to a query.