Securing the country from e-waste

It is comforting to know that the government will soon identify an e-waste management entity, and that our e-waste will hopefully be disposed off in an environmentally friendly  way within a year or two.

Except for a recent survey conducted for the IT project, Chiphen Rigpel, we are not sure what quantity of e-waste we produce today. The survey put it at between 1,105 and 1,810 metric tonnes in 2014 alone. What percentage of this e-waste may be hazardous is not known.

But we can safely assume that the quantity of e-waste we generate is rising, and that along with it.

Almost all of us own mobile phones and smart phones, and are replacing them at a faster pace. The fridge, rice cooker, electric heater, washing machine, TV, and microwave oven, are no more novelties for a Bhutanese family.  Much of the equipment we use are operated using batteries, like cars, torches, clocks, among others. We usually dispose off these into the trash that ends up in our landfills.

Visit any hardware repair shop in Bhutan, and you will also see piles of equipment and electronics discarded by their owners. Granted, some of them are cannibalized to repair similar items but with prices dropping and incomes rising, there may be a shift in mindset, opting for a new item rather than attempting to repair an old one only contributing to larger piles.

Certain kinds of e-waste may be more hazardous than our other waste when it ends up at the landfill, or in a scrap yard being disassembled by workers not properly equipped.

Such hazardous materials could eventually land up polluting our water systems or soil causing disruptions in the food chain, leading to serious impacts on humans and animals.

Most of our e-waste either lands up in our landfills or in scrap yards in India aftering being auctioned. We do not know if those who disassemble and mine our e-waste in India for valuable metals are properly protected from the hazardous items found in some e-waste.

E-waste can be a profitable business and those dealing with it, may cut corners to maximize their profit. We cannot allow this. As a country that prides itself on its environmental and compassionate principles, we must not allow our e-waste to be auctioned to anyone who pays the best price. Regulations must be in place to ensure our e-waste is sold to only those who will in fact recycle them in a way that not only protects the environment but those who disassemble them.

That is until we have our own e-waste management facility. Once we do, much awareness will need to be carried out so that our e-waste, both government and private, is channeled to the facility so that it does not end up in our landfills.

We have already begun segregating our waste, at least in Thimphu city. It would not be difficult to begin identifying and disposing off our e-waste in the designated bin.

It is most likely that the government may have to lend a hand in establishing such a facility but any support would go a long way in securing our future generations from having to be exposed to the dangerous long term effects of e-waste.

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