Managing e-waste should be a high priority
E-WASTE includes all manner of discarded electronic and electrical appliances -- from computers through to television and display units, as well as refrigerators and hand phones -- which is becoming a growing concern the world over because of the enormous amounts generated annually and the many problems it causes. Granted, a measure of re-use and re-cycling of parts takes some of the sting out of the controversy, but aspects of the waste-handling are a cause for serious anxiety because these products contain amounts of lead and mercury which could prove dangerous to the health of the workers, more so in developing countries where operations are primitive. In India, for example, where quite a bit of the world's e-waste is dumped, the manual nature of separation of re-usable parts and waste can cause contamination in handlers. More unfortunate, the industry employs child labour.
Even more horrific is the difficulty involved in disposing of cathode ray tubes (CRT), a major component of display units, which are difficult to treat and are often just buried in landfills. Over time leaching will occur, thus polluting the environment. These poisons, for instance, can enter into the water supply with worrying consequences. In short, it will ultimately come into human contact and prolonged exposure to these heavy metals can be debilitating to public health, most especially children, causing learning disabilities.
The problem arises as a result of the rapid evolution of technology in the recent past, which has forced upgrading on commercial and private users. Obsolete computers and dated mobile telephones are the main culprits looking to be disposed of safely. In Malaysia, it is an emerging problem threatening to go out of control. As a consequence, a pilot project for collection, separation and disposal was started in Penang under the guidance of the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Closely observed by the Department of Environment, it will become the basis for the country's e-waste disposal policies.
A growing global problem, which has yet to produce a truly effective solution, e-waste should be high on the priority list of solid waste management. And because fashion is a large part of the problem, consumers ought to be more cognisant of these dangers driven by 80 per cent vanity and 20 per cent utility. Maybe, as is happening in California, producers and retailers of mobile telephones should be made to share the burden and users ought to be able to return their obsolete and unwanted gadgets for disposal to retailers. Sadly, even this is but a superficial solution which merely facilitates collection.