What is E-Waste?
Electronic waste, or most commonly abbreviated as E-waste, is a terminology used for non-functional and obsolete electronic products that have ultimately completed their life span and become useless. Since technology is rapidly advancing and leveling up each day, it’s common for various electronic devices to become a part of trash after a specific time period. Often, complete categories of used up and outdated electronic equipment contribute to e-waste. For instance, the VCR’s were replaced by DVD players and ultimately DVD players met the same fate after the innovative advancement of Blu-ray players. On the whole, we can conclude that e-waste is a trash collection comprising of anything electronic: Monitors, Computers, TVs, PDAs, Cell Phones, Fax Machines, Printers, CD Players and so on.
Impact and Hazards of E-Waste:
In the recent years, e-waste has turned out to be one of the most consistent and dangerous threats to our environment and earth. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has estimated that around 60 million metric tons of used up computers fill the landfills of the globe every year. A wide majority of the electronic equipment that is thrown away without being recycled properly consist of harmful materials such as Mercury, Cadmium, Beryllium and Lead. All of these elements can pose a significant amount of threat to the environment when they are added up in massive volumes present in e-waste. Apart from contaminating our environment with dangerous elements, another major disadvantage of improper disposal of e-waste is the loss of a massive recycling opportunity. Nearly every electronic waste comprises of a factor of recyclable materials such as glass, metals and plastics.
Proper disposal of e-waste is bound to become a headache for nations across the globe since it’s going to consume a vast amount of funds from the public money to achieve this milestone. Many experts bear the opinion that governments may not be able to implement safe disposal of e-waste unless the electronic manufacturers themselves step up and take the due responsibility. The disappointing part is that manufacturers are only focusing on producing and selling electronic stock and thus, earning huge profits without any focus on proper recycling or disposal of e-waste. Even the big fishes in the market tend to refrain from taking any major step for the recycling of used up computers, televisions and other electronic devices. All of this leads to portray most developing countries as a junk site for e-waste.
How much e-waste does Pakistan receive?
According to a recent report issued by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Pakistan has become a dump site for an astonishing 46 percent of the world’s total electronic waste that accounts for nearly USD $9 billion. This figure of e-waste is dumped each year in the country via either illegal or legal trading of electronic equipment.
In developing countries like Pakistan, re-usability of this e-waste leads to hazardous effects on people’s health and act as a catalyst for increasing the environmental pollution as well. It’s an undeniable fact that a prominent portion of Pakistan’s electronic sales, including laptops, computers and smartphones, originate from the sales and purchase of e-waste. This electronic equipment contains large quantities of harmful elements as well as brominated flame retardants.
Child Labor involved:
In Pakistan, there is a large amount of child labor that is involved in picking up things from e-waste sites and hence, they are undoubtedly the most apparent victims of various diseases due to the harmful substances confined in e-waste. Apart from children, adult men and women suffer from this trade cycle.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) states that serious neurological impairments can be caused among children and pregnant women by the exposure of elements like mercury, cadmium and lead.
Processing of E-waste in Pakistan:
In Pakistan, the electronic circuit boards that constitute as a big portion of the e-waste are imported from all across the globe including Australia, Japan, US and the UK. However, only a shallow 2 percent of these imported computers can be re-used. As far as the remaining machines are concerned, all the hardware stuff and circuitry has to be taken out manually and no protective equipment for hands is used whatsoever. Moreover, the working conditions in the warehouses are extremely terrible and workers are totally exposed to hazardous fumes from burning hardware equipment.
Along with computers, the inland generated e-waste comprises of bulks of imported mobile phones. Considering the fact that there are over 133 million active mobile phone users in Pakistan, approximately 2 to 2.3 million mobile phones have to be imported in Pakistan by various manufacturing brands each month. An estimated quantity of around 24 million mobile phones is sold in Pakistan each year.
Most Pakistanis prefer to purchase used computers from the markets that offer them after selection from the e-waste dump sites instead of buying a brand new computer because of the high prices.
A wide majority of Pakistanis favor purchasing second-hand computers from markets instead of going for a new one because of the high rates. The used computers that are selected from the e-waste offer them affordable prices. In most developing countries, the importation of e-waste is usually done by illegal means with an insider from government agencies involved. This importation of e-waste has critical negative impacts on the environmental aspect as well as on the health aspect.
Actions taken by Govt. of Pakistan:
The government of Pakistan has been involved in taking several measures to regulate the safe disposal of e-waste in Pakistan. The National Environmental Policy, approved on 29 June 2005, is a framework for dealing with all environmental issues at national level. Additionally, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 also claims to focus upon the rehabilitation, improvement and protection of the environment.
However, the time has come that instead of just misleading the world and our environment with deceptive laws, the government should start implementing these rules and laws with full focus.