Bangladesh Faces the Anticipated Threats of Electronic Waste

Electronic Waste

Maisha Binte Sultan: Today, men are crippled without the intervention of technologies. The sum of electronic waste or e-waste has increased exponentially over the last few decades with the unprecedented rise in electronic usage as it becomes more accessible and cheaper.

According to the United Nation’s Global E-waste Monitor report 2020, 53.6 million metric tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2019 and only 17% was recycled in that year. Bangladesh is not spared from the curse rather it generated 400 thousand tonnes of e-waste in 2018 (20% increment each year) with only 3% recycling of the e-waste, as reported by the Department of Environment, but Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) reported it to be 2.95 million tonnes of e-waste with only 10% recycling. The toxic hazardous substances released from these e-wastes are amending the healthy environment that culminates in the disruption of human metabolism and aquatic ecosystem.

The management of e-waste is becoming a challenge as the developing countries suffer more from the e-waste disposed by the developed countries. By enhancing the collection and recycling processes, the efficiency of e-waste management system is ensured. For that, both the formal and informal sectors must play pivotal role to tackle e-wastes.

Annually, the major portion of e-waste is generated from the ship breaking yards in Bangladesh. The lack of investment and technically skilled human resources causes the ostensible recycling in the country to adopt unsafe measures like burning of the e-scraps and rest are thrown into landfills, rivers, drains, lakes, and open spaces. These releases toxic heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium and also plastics, copper, aluminum along with organic pollutants such as polychlorinated bi-phenyls, polybrominated diphenyl ethers etc. into the environment.

Dismantling or shredding of e-waste, releases metal particulates into the immediate environment where the health of workers (particularly child laborers) are often seriously and chronically affected. The coarse particles directly contaminate soil; runoff accumulates hazardous components into the surface water which finds its way into underground water resources which is the main source of drinking water.

The contaminants enter the food chain of aquatic lives and in food crops thus eventually end up in human body through the phenomenon of bio-accumulation and bio-magnification. When exceeds the threshold level of contaminants concentration in human body causes cell disruption, metal toxicity, asthma, cancer, infant mortality, disability and other life threatening diseases. Now, inadequate legal framework and dysfunctional waste management system in Bangladesh heavily challenges it to face the emerging threats of e-waste.

The ever growing massive pile of e-waste is yet managed primarily by the informal sectors of Bangladesh. The current practices of e-waste management involve- Landfills, Incineration and improper recycling which are not environmental friendly and looks unsustainable in the long run. Lack of formal policies or direct enforcement of laws to manage e-waste caused the electronic companies to generate products without any consequences.

An integrated formal-informal approach for proper collection, treatment, and disposal systems of e-waste can lessen the unsolicited threats. The most widely used Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy and 3 Rs policy or Reduce, Reuse, Recycle initiatives are effective for integrated approach. EPR compels the companies to take back post-consumption products for recycling and to minimize the risk of electronic raw materials; precious metals like gold, platinum etc. are extracted from the recycling units worth billions of dollars. 

Besides, adoption of eco-friendly recycling technologies and taxes on illegal dumping on landfill can only be possible through integrated approach. For the development of Bangladesh, it is inevitable to face the consequence of e-waste threat and act accordingly.

(The writer is a participant of National Environmental Writing Contest 2020 and can be reached at [email protected])

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