E-waste management in Bangladesh
Electronic Waste (E-waste) is evolving from electronic goods containing both hazardous substances along with precious metals. The hazardous nature of e-waste is damaging public health and environment whereas the precious metals obtained in the process is attracting economic benefits.
The use of e-goods have increased the standard of people's lives and brought prosperity for the nation but at the same time created e-waste has directed problems at different levels. Developed countries produce a huge amount of e-waste which they mostly export to the developing countries for their economic benefits. Complementing the vision of a digital Bangladesh the usage of electrical and electronic goods/technology has been rapidly accelerating.
This is leading to the creation of a massive amount of e-waste that is either being dumped in landfills and water bodies or undergoing unregulated recycling instead of safe disposal.
The e-waste recycle workers, in developing counties like Bangladesh, are exposed to hazards leading to physical injuries and chronic ailments such as asthma, skin diseases, eye irritations and stomach diseases. The dust and the surrounding ambient air may pose inhalation hazard along with dermal exposure hazard to workers as well as the risk of environmental contamination. In Bangladesh approximately 50,000 children are involved in e-waste processing sector; about 15% of child workers die during and after effect of e-waste processing, and about 83% people become sick and live with the long-term illness.
The Basel Convention, 1989 prohibits all trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste, Bangladesh is a signatory; and also has access to the Basel convention on April 01, 1993. The Convention is not against the hazardous waste trading but it imposes some trade restrictions on those hazardous materials that are deemed to require trans-boundary movement.
Furthermore, according to the Import Policy Order, importing used EE goods are prohibited in Bangladesh, but in reality a large quantity of e-waste exits in the informal sector. EEE goods recycling and dismantling is a growing business in Bangladesh where e-waste dismantling facility is not available in the formal sector.
The e-waste recycling process in Bangladesh is very injurious and hazardous for which there is no specific guidelines or regulations. Presently, the country's e-waste/hazardous waste activities including production, import/export and recycling etc. are being carried out under the provision of the present environmental laws e.g. Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 2010, Hazardous Waste and Ship Breaking Waste Management Policy 2011, The Environmental Court Act 2000 etc.
There is a need for e-waste legislation in Bangladesh and the Government of Bangladesh is in the process of adopting E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules. The Government of Bangladesh in its National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction Paper has also stressed on increasing expenditure for hazardous waste management, elevated segregation at source and safe disposal of hazardous waste. While the 7th Five Year Plan recognized and growing demand for electrical & electronic devices has led to growing e-waste and emphasized on the urgent need of enacting e-waste rules and preparing guidelines based on a baseline survey.
Managing e-waste is a multi-faceted challenge and Bangladesh has been heat of e-waste, due to the illegal exports, weak rules and legislative approach. Even though resolving the overall impact of the e-waste challenge cannot be accomplished by a single country nevertheless, the specific tasks may help Bangladesh to combat its e-waste problem:
The informal sector should be provided with a proper financial incentive, training and guidance so that they develop the skill, knowledge and equipment to dismantle, recycle and dispose of electrical waste in an environmentally sound manner.
The MoEF should also take up the responsibility for monitoring and may examining the environmental conditions and the effectiveness of both formal and informal e-waste recycle plants.
Furthermore, the local city corporation can play a vital role by separating the e-waste from the general waste at its initial collection point.
The producers of electronic goods can be burdened with the duty to produce more eco-friendly and easy to recycle products.
The schools can have a separate awareness program so that children from a young age are aware of the side effect of e-waste and are encouraged to your eco-friendly products.
Bangladesh may strongly oppose any used electronics donation or support from the developing and deny to the said manner of e-waste transfer. Undertaking research and development for innovating technology in national perspective and application of modern technology in handling and managing e-waste for income generation activities of poor people and benefiting the national economy.
Trans-boundary movement i.e. illegal export and access to e-waste in Bangladesh is a common phenomenon. Nevertheless, imposing restrictions and banning the trans-boundary movement of e-waste will not an economic decision for a country like Bangladesh, rather it will difficult and costly to implement. Such a step might destroy the potential source of cost-effective raw material, employment and income opportunity of the vulnerable poor whose main source of income might be dependent on e-waste related activities.
Nevertheless, it is also important to not lose sight from the fact that e-waste indeed has a detrimental impact which is not limited to any local or national boundary. In this era of modern technology, the global usage and dependency on electronics is beaming and will continue doing so, therefore, producing more e-waste. It is high time that Bangladesh identifies this disease named e-waste and develops long-term solutions, to enact and adopt fair policy regulation dedicated to keeping the environment safe for its citizens.
N. Nabila Hoque is a Barrister-at-Law