PH among lowest e-waste generators, UN report says
THE creation of “e-waste,” or waste from computers, cell phones and other electrical components in Southeast Asia increased by more than half in 2010-2015, but the Philippines remained among the lowest producers of
the potentially hazardous waste a United Nations report said.
The Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia compiled by the UN University and released last week said that 12 places in the region—Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam—generated 12.3 million metric tons of e-waste between 2010 and 2015, a 63 percent increase from the previous five year period.
To put the amount of e-waste in perspective, the report said that the volume of waste was “2.4 times that of the Great Pyramid of Giza.”
“The volume of discarded electronics in East and Southeast Asia jumped almost two-thirds between 2010 and 2015, and e-waste generation is growing fast in both total volume and per capita measures,” the report said.
The report noted, however, that on a per capita basis, the Philippines was among the lowest producers of e-waste in Asia, generating just 1.35 kilograms per person in 2015, similar to Vietnam (1.34 kg per person) and Cambodia (1.1 kg per person).
The report attributed the Philippines’ comparatively good performance to the enactment of recent e-waste legislation and “improving” enforcement efforts, as well as the relative lack of manufacturing of electronic devices in the country, which may encourage consumers to use them longer.
“China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam all have recent e-waste legislation. The four countries are therefore in a transitionary phase, with a mix of formal and informal elements in an evolving ecosystem in terms of collection and recycling infrastructure. The countries face similar challenges in enforcing regulations with limited resources and capacity and low public awareness regarding the hazards of improper disposal of e-waste,” the report explained.
The UN University researchers found that China alone more than doubled its generation of e-waste between 2010 and 2015 to 6.7 million metric tons, an increase of 107 percent.
The biggest producers of e-waste were Hong Kong, generating 21.7 kg per person in 2015, followed by Singapore (19.95 kg), and Taiwan (19.13 kg).
The report stressed that the average growth of e-waste creation across Asia was “outpacing population growth.”
“For many countries that already lack infrastructure for environmentally sound e-waste management, the increasing volumes are a cause for concern,” report co-author Ruediger Kuehr said in a statement. “Increasing the burden on existing waste collection and treatment systems results in flows towards environmentally unsound recycling and disposal.”
Despite national e-waste legislation in some countries, the report found that improper and illegal e-waste dumping is prevalent in most countries in the study.
“Consumers, dismantlers and recyclers are often guilty of illegal dumping, particularly of ‘open dumping,’ where non- functional parts and residues from dismantling and treatment operations are released into the environment. Informal recycling, also called ‘backyard recycling,’ is a challenge for most developing countries in the region, with a large and burgeoning business of conducting unlicensed and often illegal recycling practices from the backyard,” the report said.
The report explained that common recycling practices are not only hazardous for recyclers and the environment, but are also inefficient.
“Mostly, these recyclers recover gold, silver, palladium and copper, largely from printed circuit boards (PCBs) and wires using hazardous wet chemical leaching processes commonly also known as acid baths. Typically, informal recyclers use solvents such as sulphuric acid (for copper) or aqua regia (for gold). The leachate solutions go through separation and purification processes to concentrate the valuable metals and separate impurities. This often results in the release of toxic fumes,” the report said.
“Open burning and acid bath recycling in the informal sector have serious negative impacts on processors’ occupational health,” study co-author Shunichi Honda said. “In the absence of protective materials such as gloves, glasses, masks, etc., inhalation of and exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances directly affect workers’ health.”
“Indirect exposure to these hazardous substances is also a cause of many health issues, particularly for families of informal recyclers who often live and work in the same location, as well as for communities living in and around the area of informal recycling sites,” added co-author Deepali Sinha Khetriwal, Associate Program Officer of UN University.
The report gave high marks to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan for establishing e-waste collection and recycling systems.
“Among the most advanced economies and areas in Asia, the three are also characterized by high per capita e-waste generation, formal collection and recycling infrastructure and relatively strong enforcement,” the report said.
Hong Kong and Singapore do not have specific e-waste legislation, but rely on collaboration with producers to manage e-waste, it added.