“Cut on Christmas e-waste” – advocacy groups urge public

“Think Environment! Prevent and Reduce E-Waste.”

This is the joint message aired by the EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental watchdog promoting “zero waste and chemical safety,” and the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI), a network espousing “integral human development and social transformation,” at an event held this morning at the MRT North Avenue Station in Quezon City.

As consumers go for the Christmas shopping frenzy, EcoWaste and PMPI volunteers donning huge mock cellphone, laptop, tablet and TV distributed leaflets to commuters to encourage them to minimize the creation of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) or what is referred to as e-waste.

Christmas shopping spending for new electrical appliances and electronic gadgets, which is good for business could spell trouble for our fragile environment with the generation of e-waste, including dead electronics as well as those that are still useable but have become outdated with the rapid advance in science and technology, the groups observed.

According to a policy brief published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), WEEE are “discarded computers, office electronic equipment, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, television sets and refrigerators” and “includes electronics destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling or disposal.”

Aside from handing out e-waste prevention leaflets, the volunteers also sang Christmas carols, including “Jingle Bells” with its lyrics modified to illustrate the mammoth problem with e-waste, described by UNEP as “the fastest growing waste stream globally” at an estimated 50 million tons each year.

“Home and consumer electronics are becoming the favorite acquisitions by consumers during the Yuletide season. These products, which are loaded with hazardous materials beyond threshold quantities, can turn into ecological nightmares if improperly discarded, recycled or disposed of. The problem is exacerbated by the global trade in used electronics that are mostly sold in surplus shops and the lack of an e-waste take-back system in which the producers of electrical and electronic equipment assume responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“Unnecessary purchases due to reinforced urge for more modern hi-tech gadgets, coupled with heightened consumerism due to the proliferation of holiday promos, add to an increase in potential e-waste generation,” added Primo Morillo, Advocacy Officer of the PMPI.

“Indeed, the lure of so called hi-tech gadgets for gifts and even for personal enjoyment to celebrate Christmas with, brings with it the accompanying dread of e-waste, which can end up in dumpsites and landfills or are burned, contaminating the environment and putting the health of communities and other life forms at great risk,” the groups emphasized.

The groups cited a UNEP warning that “inappropriate methods like open burning, which are often used by the informal sector to recover valuable materials, have heavy impacts on human health and the environment.”

The groups added that aside from the toxicity issue, people must also be aware that producing electrical and electronic equipment requires massive and destructive mining. To make cellphones, laptops, tablets, TVs and other e-products, mountains have to be flattened and islands destroyed, to obtain the metals and other minerals necessary for the production of these electronics.

E-wastes contain highly hazardous materials that include halogenated compounds, such as polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs in condensers and transformers, flame retardants (TBBA, PBB, and PBDE), chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, and polyvinyl chloride or PVC; heavy metals and other metals (such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium VI among others); toner dusts from printers and copiers; and even radioactive substances like Americium, which is present in smoke and fire detectors for example.

Harmful emissions of hazardous substances, explained UNEP, mainly come from: 1) the product itself (if landfilled) such as lead in circuit boards or CRT glass, and mercury in liquid crystal display (LCD) backlights; 2) substandard processes resulting to dioxin formation during burning of halogenated plastics or use of smelting processes without suitable off-gas treatment; and 3) reagents used in the recycling process such as cyanide and other strong leaching acids, nitrogen oxides (NOx) gas from leaching processes and mercury from amalgamation.



The groups have listed the following recommendations for consumers to consider to prevent the generation of e-waste during the holiday season or later on:

1. Extend the life of your existing electronics instead of buying new ones. Consider whether you truly need to get new ones before rushing to buy the latest stuff. (Watch the “Story of Electronics” video at http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-electronics/, which tells the story about where our gadgets come from, and how the things we buy impacts our planet.)

2. Have broken electronics repaired.

3. Have outdated component of an electronic product refurbished or upgraded instead of buying an entirely new replacement.

4. Never dispose of unwanted but still usable electronics. Pass them on to relatives and friends for reuse or donate to charities and schools. What might be of no use to you, might come in handy for some people.

5. Collect spent household batteries, cellphone batteries, fluorescent lamps, empty ink cartridges and the like, label and safely store them in a container with cover and kept out of reach of children and pets. These should be safely managed or disposed of in an environmentally-sound manner and not mixed with regular waste.

6. Visit the manufacturer’s website or call the dealer to find out if they have a take-back program or scheme for your discarded electronics.

7. Earn from your e-scrap. List it on online auction websites or consider appropriate recycling options. Contact the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) for advice on environmentally-safe recycling options.

8. If you really need to spend for new electronics, choose items with less hazardous substances, with greater recycled content, with higher energy efficiency, with longer life span, and those that will produce less waste.

a. Scan through Greenpeace International’s Guide to Greener Electronics, ranking top manufactures of personal computers, mobile phones, TVs, and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling, and climate change. Search the Internet for other green purchasing tools.

b. Find products that have the RoHS logo – an indicator that a product complies with the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances, which restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment. These restricted chemicals are cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated biphenyl ethers.

c. Find the product with the specifications that you need and one that can be easily upgraded with the rapid technological advancements.

d. Look for the Energy Star label, indicating that the product is energy efficient, conserving electricity use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked with energy production and use.

e. If battery operated, look for rechargeable instead of disposable batteries.

f. Go for products with good warranty and take-back policies.

g. Avoid buying imported, used, or surplus electronics as they are certainly discarded for being near obsolete by the country of source and they don’t have warranties.

9. Take good care of your electronic device – whether it’s brand new, refurbished or hand-me down – as sound maintenance will prolong its lifespan. Read the instruction manual carefully and get acquainted and trained on easy fix-it-yourself guide.

10. Make it a point to have your e-scrap properly recycled by authorized recyclers so that they don’t end up as e-waste to be thrown away or burned.