Handling e-waste

Monday, 18 October 2010 20:48 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

BEING positioned at a geographically central location in the world has brought many a bane and boon to Sri Lanka. Unknown to most, yet another disadvantage is that the nation has become a dumping ground for e-waste mainly due to the necessary policy frameworks not being in place.

Customs officials have only recently drawn attention to what is clearly a serious problem that could directly trip up Sri Lanka’s march towards sustainable development. Even though electrical waste can be dismissed by many as being a side issue the fact that it can cause serious environmental and health harm including kidney diseases through over exposure is not something that can be dismissed easily.

The issue was also raised by officials while participating at the 4th Multilateral Environmental Agreement Regional Enforcement Network (MEA-REN) Workshop in Beijing, China recently. Hazardous waste is a rapidly increasing crisis in Sri Lanka, they said representing Sri Lanka’s country report for the workshop.

Massive importation of used automobile parts, computers and supplementary parts, mobile phones and many other electronic wastes has become a grave problem to Sri Lankan policy makers, the report said. It also pointed out that such low quality products was siphoning off foreign exchange and increasing the wastage of electricity as consumers get fooled by a short term cash gain.

On the surface it makes sense to buy a cheap product since the technology market keeps upgrading continuously —  however six months down the line when the item is thrown out there is no one to manage the ever increasing cast offs. Even worse they get “recycled” in fertiliser and other products that increase the Cadmium quantity in the soil and can cause serious kidney related diseases. In fact the North Central Province has already been highlighted in the report as suffering from e-waste related health problems.   

Predictably there is a blame game doing the rounds between the Central Environment Authority (CEA) and the Customs Department with the latter insisting that their hands are tied with only the former having the power to stop shipments of e-waste and chemical fertiliser. The CEA has reciprocated with the point that e-waste arrives in the country through illegal means as well, and all stakeholders should get together to fight this menace.

However, what is startling is that there has been no survey done to ascertain the level of e-waste in Sri Lanka and make policy changes that would prevent abuse as a dumping ground. Even the last study done was in 2003, the results of which are hopelessly outdated to deal with the exorbitant increase in electronic devices discarded daily.

Despite Sri Lanka being a signatory to a number of international conventions, such as the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the Ozone layer, Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes, Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety, Rotterdam Convention on Hazardous Chemicals, Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the issue of e-waste remains ignored.  

These conventions require compliance from their signatories to control electronic and chemical pollution by way of introducing management mechanisms to prevent import and export of used electronic items which they term as hazardous or toxic. They include used computer monitors, batteries, refrigerators and various telecommunication devices.

In a world where technology is king it is next to impossible to stop dumping unless there are strong controls and these are implemented stringently. Even then it is an evolving process but what cannot be denied is that it is high time a start was made.