[Note] E-waste is not necessarily waste, it can be wealth

By Darwin Mendiola

Just a week ago, I attended a forum organized by Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. regarding E-Scrap. I thought at first that this was simply about another heap of garbage problem brought about by our growing consumerism. Little did I know that the proper management of electronic waste gives the anti-mining advocate a more convincing argument to end the natural mineral extraction as there are in our very eyes bulks of metal to mine.

Just like me, people nowadays may have old and damaged electronic devices just gathering dust in their closet. They may seem to be worthless and we opt to get rid of them. This resulted in the growing number of electronic items found in the dump sites or waste streams that are creating further waste problems.

As the old saying goes, “there is wealth in waste”.

Our continuous dependence on electronic equipment at home and in the workplace has given rise to a new environmental challenge – electronic waste. Electronic waste or e-waste, refers to electronic products that no longer satisfy the needs of its original purpose. These can include a wide variety of goods, such as computers, cellular phones, TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, video cameras, etc.

While experts say that old pieces of equipment can be harmful as they contain hazardous materials such as lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, and chromium that pose both physical and environmental health threat especially if exposed to sun and rain, but they can be a new source of income.

According to Greenpeace, there are huge electronic wastes being dump at the Smokey Mountain garbage site in Manila every year. Electronic waste is the fastest growing component in the global waste stream amounting to 20 to 50 million tons worldwide with Asia contributing about 12 million tons a year.

During the forum, a study made by Dr. Eulalio R. Guieb III of the University of the Philippines, entitled “The Social Life of Retired Cellular Phones”, focuses on the need to strengthen the recycle market that will help divert e-waste from the landfills, thereby reducing waste products and at the same time providing a new source for materials recovery for obsolete technology.

In his presentation, Dr. Guieb emphasized the general strengthening of all areas for e-waste management in the Philippines more than what the Solid Waste Management Law requires. With the growing bulk of e waste disposal every year, the government and the private sectors have overlooked the potential of retrieving valuable minerals in e-waste products. Dr. Guieb said that “for every ounce of gold that has to be mined in the open pit mining field, it produces more than 30 tons of waste”.

He added that by shifting our country’s economic focus from mineral mining to e-waste recycling, will not only preserve the environment but it can also also mitigate the growing e-waste problem and to reduce the need for mineral mining. He stressed out that “there are a lot of recoverable and valuable resources in e-waste like plastics, gold, copper, aluminum, and iron. To preserve our natural resources, it is only logical to recycle and reuse e-waste products instead of dumping into landfills.

But he made it clear that it can only be done if the government will do something to make it happen. Despite the existing e-waste policy framework, it still lacks adequate facilities for recycling technologies and by financial support. There is also a need for a continuous public awareness campaign and social dialogue between the public and private sectors in order for all stakeholders to be responsible for the policy implementation.

The first step is a simple recognition that e-waste is not necessarily waste, it can still be useful and valuable to us if we know how to properly dispose them. Who knows it may accelerate our slow paced economy.


Photo courtesy of www.greenpeace.org.