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The Financial Express

Electronic-waste is a growing public health threat for BD

| Updated: December 07, 2022 21:19:27


Electronic-waste is a growing public health threat for BD

There has been astonishing growth in the use of electronic products (e-products) in Bangladesh over the last two decades. These products include television, cell phones, laptops and desktop computers, automated machinery, medical devices, household and industrial appliances, office equipment (fax and photocopy machines),  toys for children, and other electronic gadgets. Transport vehicles also use a lot of electronic components. Increased motorisation, industrialisation, and urbanisation of the country in general along with the availability and lower cost of these products, higher purchasing power of the consumers, and growing popularity of these have increased the use of e-products.

However, in the absence of a well-designed and implemented disposal system, e-products are thrown randomly at the end of the lifecycle in Bangladesh. This inappropriate recycling of electronic waste (e-waste) leads to human exposure to leaching and emissions of many toxic substances. The proper disposal of these items is not carefully regulated or monitored here, and e-waste is being thrown into the soil, agricultural land, and water bodies without knowing the negative effects on human health, the environment, and the overall ecosystem. E-waste has thereby become one of the largest public health threats in Bangladesh by polluting its soil, water, and air.

Research shows that e-waste contains heavy metals (e.g., Fe, Au, Pb, Hg, Cr, Cu, and Cd), SiO2, polyesters, phenol, formaldehyde, halogenated polymers, N-containing polymers, etc. E-products almost always contain plastic materials, metals-plastic mixtures, tubes, screens, cables, circuit boards etc.  The global e-waste generation was about 54 million metric tons (MMT) in 2019 and will cross 75 MMT by 2030, one report warns. Poor e-waste management during collection, processing, recycling, and resulting in air pollution, water pollution, and soil deterioration has a negative impact on human health.

Bangladesh itself produces about 3 MMT of e-waste each year. Chittagong's shipbreaking yards alone generate more than 25 lakh tons of e-waste a year. To make matters worse, one report mentions that about 80 per cent of e-waste generated in developed countries is sent for recycling and disposal in poor countries. The domestic and overseas load of e-waste is very difficult for a country like Bangladesh to manage. In the upcoming years, the consumption of e-products will increase due to the development and availability of modern technologies in Bangladesh.

In Bangladesh, e-waste collection is primarily carried out by the unorganised, informal sector of scrap dealers, traders, or peddlers. Around one-third of e-waste is now recycled in Bangladesh, with the remainder dumped in landfills, sewers, rivers, ponds, and open areas. The City Corporations have no special guidelines for managing electronic trash. The e-waste is mixed up with other household and biodegradable garbage. A recent survey study showed people's lack of awareness about and interest in the safe disposal and recycling of e-waste.

In June, 2021, the Hazardous Waste (e-waste) Management Rules, 2021, have been promulgated by the Government of Bangladesh that updated the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995. These rules are applicable to electrical and electronic products manufacturing, marketing, buying, selling, export, import, stockade, and laboratory stockade for research, abandonment, repair, processing, and transporting as well as to give protection to people who are engaged in these activities. The e-waste rule covers products including home appliances, monitoring, and control equipment, automatic machines, IT and communication equipment, and medical equipment), and clarifies obligations for manufacturers, assemblers, collectors, sellers, and consumers of these products.

The rules developed by the government on e-waste will help improve the management of e-waste and may assist in creating systematic storage and recycling of the rising quantity of e-waste in Bangladesh. However, to administer these, the Department of Environment (DoE) must build its capacity by recruiting an adequate number of human resources and ensuring continuous training to build their skill, and competence as well as develop necessary structures. There must be good coordination between DoE and other government wings including law enforcement agencies, the ministry of health, and the ministry of labour and this will help in the routine operations as the field inspection drives depend a lot on the presence and support of law enforcement personnel. To ensure the development of an e-waste management system that is safe and sustainable, DoE must create strong collaboration and partnerships with big electronic manufacturers, local government bodies, city corporations, and other government departments.

The disassembly and recycling of electronic equipment is a rapidly growing industry. But there is no e-waste disposal facility in the formal or government sector. Unless designated industrial clusters are created to bring and locate all e-waste recycling firms and service-providing industries or enterprises, DoE would have enormous challenges in implementing these new sets of government rules.

Rapid technological advancement, industrialisation and automation of business processes, and an increase in usage of information and communications technology both by individuals and businesses, in general, have led to a growth of electronic goods as well as electronic waste in Bangladesh. Appropriate e-waste disposal has become a serious necessity for protecting public health and the environment.

 

Dr. Hasnat M Alamgir is a Professor and Chair of Public Health at IUBAT- International University of Business Agriculture and Technology, Dhaka.

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