E Waste becoming an environmental hazard in Bangladesh

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The fast pace of technological progress means consumption of tech products is at an all time high. Desktop PCs have made way for laptops which in turn, are steadily being replaced by tabs.

Similarly, smartphones are taking over the old modelled feature phones; old, bulky CRT monitors have given way to LCD and LED units. Gradually, new gadgets keep coming in and the old ones keep piling up. This toxic pile of electronic waste is fast becoming an environmental as well as health hazard, already accounting for 15% of infant deaths.

Despite such a situation, the legislative framework for managing e-waste has been at a stalemate for the past two and a half years. And thanks to the absence of rules and regulations, the amount of such waste is rising at an alarming rate in Bangladesh. Already, several locations in Elephant Road, Nimtoli and Dholaikhal have turned into dumping grounds for electronic rubbish. Moreover, old and used products coming through illegal channels from Korea, Singapore and China are also adding to the burgeoning pile.

These products, after being sold in the market, become obsolete fairly quickly and are thrown away at random. These products often have chemicals such as Zinc, Chromium, Nitrous Oxide, Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Beryllium etc which are toxic both to humans as well as the environment. Like silent killers, these compounds are leading to health complications such as deformed new borns, high blood pressure, kidney failure, thyroid hormone complications, kidney failure and even cancer.

Specialists have warned that burying these wastes into the ground leads to the build up of lactates which pollutes the underground water levels. Besides, household electronic waste also creating severe health hazards. On the other hand, electronics used in public and private institutions are also being dumped at random without any care for health concerns.

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Bangladesh has signed the international Vessel Convention for managing electronic waste and as per the conditions of the treaty, Bangladesh has to plan and implement a framework for management of such waste. Yet, there seems to be no headway into that front. Acknowledging the dangers of accumulating waste, environmentalists informed that piling of such garbage has added a whole deadly dimension to public health and environmental damage. A draft act titled ‘Disposal Management Rule’ was drafted in 2012 and was sent to the Ministry of Law from the Environment Directorate, but that’s where the process halted.

As per reports from private research organizations, 10 million metric tonnes of e-waste are being dumped in Bangladesh every year and this amount doubles every two years. In fact, a survey conducted by the Environment Directorate it self says  that 500 tonnes of e-waste are being dumped every day in Dhaka and as much as 15% of the total electronic waste in the country is generated in the capital.

Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), a private environmental organization, found in a survey that during the period 2011-2012, the amount of e-waste in the country totalled to 51 lakh 81 thousand and 400 tonnes which increased to over 1 crore 1 lakh tonnes during 2013-2014. Among this, mobile phones account for close to a thousand tonnes while TVs and monitors make up for close to 2 lakh tonnes. DVD players, video games, cameras, photocopy machines, medical and dental equipment etc collectively account for a further 1 lakh tonnes of waste.

According to sources in Bangladesh Electrical Merchandise Manufacturers Association, each year, over 32 crore tonnes of electronic goods are used in the country every year. But only a small proportion- 20 to 30% are reused/ refurbished for further use. Aside from this, over 50,000 computers are being imported every year. However, there is no record of what is being done with the computers or other gadgets that are being thrown away as there is no specific law or regulation regarding the management of such waste.

Despite the Import Regulatory Directive clearly prohibiting the import of old and used electronic equipment, no heed is being paid to this order which is contributing to the pile-up of electronic waste. Thanks to such illegal imports, it is possible to sell branded products from HP, Dell etc at prices as low as Tk. 10,000. While consumers are attracted by such low prices, they are not only getting ripped off, they are also putting their health and the future generation at risk.

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