It has been more than a year since officials from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DITT) said that an e-waste management entity would be created in the 2016-17 fiscal year to manage the mounting e-waste.

The department, in January 2016, said that by the end of this fiscal year, it would recruit the entity after the government allocates budget for it.

The officials now say that they could not categorise and manage e-waste since every individual generated it.

DITT’s focal person for e-waste, Damchen Zangmo, said that without proper categorisation, implementation of e-waste management is difficult. “The department lacks the technical expertise and knowledge in handling the e-waste.”

E-waste is an emerging issue, posing threat to public health and environment, as toxic materials used to make electronics and their components are discarded every day in the country.

The Waste Prevention and Management Regulation 2012 requires an entity to ensure occupational health and safety while handling e-waste. However, without proper management plans and advocacy, people in the country do not follow safe disposal methods.

A teacher recently collected all his used cell phones – about a dozen –and posted on his Facebook, asking how to dispose them.

While the educated lot, aware of the health hazards, seek suggestions regarding disposal, people in the villages let their children fiddle with the old phones, not realising the effect of toxicity.

National environment commission’s deputy chief environment officer, Tshering Dorji, said e-waste, just like any other wastes, especially hazardous waste, could pose threat to the public health and environment.

“It is because hundreds of different toxic materials are used to make electronics and their components,” he said. “Some of these materials are mercury, lead, beryllium, cadmium and brominated compounds and many others which are very toxic to human health as most of these are carcinogenic.”

Tshering Dorji said the toxic materials in electronics, if not managed, handled and retrieved properly, could cause serious health implication.

The recruitment of the entity, according to Damchen Zangmo, would have helped to manage the growing e-waste since it could have proper collection, sorting, treatment and disposal in an environment-friendly way.

Damchen Zangmo said that DITT, as an implementing agency, should monitor the e-waste. “An entity, in delivering its responsibility, will ensure compliance with the existing act and regulation,” she said. “The entity will work closely with government agencies in dzongkhags and the DITT.”

She said that since advocacy has been identified as a key component in reducing e-waste, the department has been carrying out advocacy programmes throughout the country.

It has also been revealed that DITT is evaluating how much budget would be required to carry out the e-waste management.

Damchen Zangmo said that an in-depth study is required to bring out estimation of waste generated. “The actual cost to manage the e-waste can be determined based on the cost submitted by the interested entity during the tendering process.”

Damchen Zangmo said that e-waste is an emerging issue due to rapid changes in technology and increase in the consumption of electronic goods in the country. “There is a need for an entity to control the import of e-waste which is toxic and may need extra effort to recycle or during its disposal.”

She said that the best way to reduce e-waste is through restriction of import. “DITT as an implementing agency is working to ensure that toxic materials are handled and retrieved properly to prevent from serious health implications.”

Although standard operating procedures are developed to handle e-waste, it is not known how effective it is.

A research conducted by NIIT, India, in 2009 estimated that by 2014, there will about 1,105 to 1,810 metric tonnes of e-waste in Bhutan.

Damchen Zangmo said that DITT extrapolation’s to NITT’s figure entails that Bhutan could have generated around 2,400 metric tonnes e-waste in 2016. “A proper study needs to be conducted to be able to understand the ground realities and types of e-waste.”

She said that until an entity is institutionalised, DITT would not know which agency produces what amount of e-waste.

As of now, after the end of life, government’s electronic equipment is surrendered to Department of National Properties (DNP).

“The waste is then sorted by local scrap dealers after they are auctioned off by DNP,” Damchen Zangmo said.

She said that as a part of advocacy programme, DITT has trained all stakeholders  on e-waste management, NEC, DNP, thromdes, Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC), dzongkhags, gewogs and chiwogs.

“DITT created national level awareness through an animation clip on BBS for the entire year between 2014 and early 2015,” said Damchen Zangmo.

Tashi Dema