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Taking care of the e-waste

Electronic gadgets such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, laptops, television sets, fridges, ovens, and other kinds of toys and advanced technological goods are now part of our everyday life. There’s also no doubt that they have made our lives easier.
However, when their utility period is over, we are throwing them away without a care, and thereby they seem to have swarmed like a scattered net in the country’s eco-system. The unwise dumping of electronic waste is believed to have an extremely dangerous impact on human and animal health, as the experts believe they are giving rise to various kinds of diseases among the humans. Much has been said and discussed about e-waste across the world, but little has been done. It looks like controlling or reducing e-waste is not on anybody’s priority list.
China tops the list of countries that produces most of the e-waste. It produces about 7.2 million tons of e-waste every year. The other countries that produce the maximum amounts of electronic waste are the US, Japan, India, Germany, Brazil, France, Russia, Indonesia, and Italy. There are some statistics on how much e-waste is produced across the world, and how much of it is recycled. I won’t mention the statistics in detail, but currently, only 20% of the e-waste is globally recycled.
Bangladesh recycles about 3% of its total e-waste. There are some statistics on Bangladesh, but according to Dhaka City Corporation, the actual volume of e-waste in Bangladesh isn’t known, because the collection of e-waste in this country is a problem, and that’s why the actual picture is still not available.
However, the experts think the impact of e-waste in this country is reaching a dangerous proportion. There are a few companies involved in the recycling of electronic goods, but they also think that collection is a big problem. They believe that Bangladesh needs collection points or venues in order to recycle better. But why would the consumers come to a specific location for disposing the waste?
They have also suggested incentives for dumping. Since 90% of the e-waste is produced by the consumers, it is also not easy to raise awareness as well as convince them to dispose in a proper manner. What is needed is an innovative way to collect e-waste in this country.
Experts in Bangladesh have also thought about waste reduction. They would like to convince the consumers for the extended use of their devices. The consumers should resist the urge to change their devices very frequently — even if they can afford to.
In this case, the role of the device-manufacturing companies is very important. They are the ones who allure the customers with newer devices in order to maximize their sale and profit.
Our government says that it has formulated the policy guidelines, which are to be made public very soon after the vetting by the law ministry. That’s a good piece of news. But at the same time, implementation as well as enforcement of the policy would certainly be a challenge. The authorities may think of designing a campaign for disseminating the policy, as there are hundreds of policies in the country, most of which are not helping us to make Bangladesh a better place.
I was at a workshop organized by Telecom Reporters Network of Bangladesh on this issue. There were many participants including our telecom minister, as well as representatives from the telecom sector. The CEO of Robi Axiata Limited proposed to spend from their social obligatory fund (SOF) for overcoming the scourge of e-waste. The SOF, a fund with the BTRC, has been developed by the contribution of the telecom network companies for spending on social development; the operators contribute a percentage of their revenue as their social responsibility.
It was quite heartening to see that both the minister as well as the BTRC chairman did agree in principle to find out a way to spend from that fund.
Setting up recycling companies could be another way to prevent the ills of e-waste. Many countries have started recycling such waste in full swing. The management of the two major recycling companies say that they are working in a limited scale, citing the lack of bank loans for recycling purposes as a major bottleneck.
This is where the government may think of working in this sector; it needs to help create a business for the e-waste recycling companies. There’s no doubt that Bangladesh is a potential market which needs to be utilized.
And above all, Bangladesh needs to act fast on e-waste. The dangers of e-waste are much graver than we realize.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.

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