Thursday, April 1, 2010

E-Waste Importing is Harming Bangladeshi Environment

Environmentalists were very active just before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) and even their tone in favour of protecting the environment was going on after the declaration of the conference. The main concern of the summit was laying focus on cutting carbon emission.

Besides carbon emission developed nations already found e-waste is threatening the earth and making the ground infertile to produce crops. This is very unfortunate that our environmentalists are out of the information of e-waste hazard. In the name of poverty alleviation some NGO activists are great promoters of computer, mobile phone and often they overlook the problem of e-wastage. The self-proclaimed protectors of environment arrange national and international seminars on environment, but so far nothing has been done for e-waste management.

Free of costs many non-profit organisations bring old and refurbished computers, sometimes at a discount price or by paying only shipment costs, they enjoy flexibility in bringing the used gadgets. It has been reported that even IT vendors import the old computers to sell as new computers. Fact is these are e-garbage, developed countries are not getting places to keep these and dumping places in their countries are out of their grips. So offers are sending to poor and developing nations to bring the old computers by only paying shipment costs.
Usually NGOs prefer the old computers for their schools to teach poor students computer. Increasing e-literacy in such way can be a wonderful afford if they are concern on e-waste management and avoid selling the donated computers in the market. But E-waste cannot be cheap source of IT education. Thinking of environment must be first before adopting any education strategy.

Our country's mobile phone penetration touched a record mark. Still a big market is untapped. We are creating a noticeable mobile phone density compared to those countries whose economic condition is better off than ours.
We can easily guess on the basis of the number of subscribers that there are more than three crore mobile phone sets in our country. Average longevity of a set is about one year. So every year we are dumping over one crore mobile phone sets. Expectation of the mobile phone companies is to make five core subscribers before the end of this decade. Thus very soon we will dump two and half core mobile phones annually.

A common scenario in many regular cellphone users' house is children playing with junk mobile phones. They have fun in talking with each other over the old or abandoned phones. They can lick a broken phone during playing. Parents are not aware the phone could contain toxin and harmful chemicals. These substances have been linked to cancers and other diseases in humans, and may even have devastative role. So we need to know how the cell's components adversely impact the environment.

Unfortunately, nobody is talking about the digital dumping problems. IT vendors, sellers, importers and users do not have headache about the environmental issues related to the digital goods. You may think a cell phone is too small to have damaging environmental impact. But you have to count its the cumulative effect, which is quite significant.
Problems begin if the handsets end up in landfill sites or if they are dumped illegally; but it seems our country is without the needed law and authority to monitor the dumping of electronic goods. In fact, they are not aware of it. Our country is blessed by many rivers, rainwater is reaching the underground. If the substances dumped are seeping into the soil our groundwater will contain arsenic-like poisons.

Heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium are present within mobile phones, especially in the older models, as well as brominated flame retardants in the devices' printed circuit boards and casings. Their plastic covers contain flame retardant additives that can give rise to toxic dioxins if incinerated, the cadmium in nickel-cadmium batteries is known to be toxic and carcinogenic and there are other toxic metals in the circuit board. When consigned to a landfill, phones could remain there for years leaching their toxic chemicals into the soil and potentially into water supplies, sometimes even for hundreds of years.

Computer/phone recycling with removing toxic substances safely as well as isolating and recovering precious metals, which can be used again in other products. Many hi-tech thinkers assume hundred per cent recycling is almost impossible. Recycling mission is expensive and it is hard to get cent per cent success. Thus we have to think of developing eco-friendly digital goods. The most appropriate endeavour is making the digital goods with harmless elements. As the best alternative manufacturers' are thinking of covering up the phone with biodegradable plastic.
Almost every mobile phone and computer giants claim they have recycling units. In developed nations their recycling units a bit of busy than in developing and poor countries. In fact, IT giants are quite inactive regarding e-waste management. The NGOs associated with the companies for receiving funds prefer not to speak on e-waste management.
26 March 2010
The Independent
Shahidul K K Shuvra
Editor of IT and Science pages
Cell- 01715245459
19 Dhanmondi, Road No. 1, BEL Tower,
Office telephone numbers are as follows:
8629785 (Fax)

Cross Posted on: Bangladesh ICT News Blog

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