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Second-hand gadgets aggravate PHL waste problems

February 8, 2012 6:50pm

Last year’s Christmas festivities seem like ages ago. And what lingers after the holiday hoopla, aside from the unwanted pounds from all the parties, are the gifts. Most probably you received some electronic gadget that you were either coveting for most of the year, or just one of those doodads that your Kris Kringle picked up the last minute.

Online stores like Amazon and the popular American magazine, Esquire, have ranked electronic gifts particularly high on their lists last Christmas.

The Apple iPad received the top honor, Xbox-360, Nintendo 3Ds, Call of Duty MW3, and Let’s Rock Elmo rounded the top 5 gifts last Christmas.

All these merchandise also share the same trait – rapid obsolescence. Next year’s iPad will be better or will be marketed as such, and thus, 2011’s version will either be stored, passed to another user, or thrown away.

Electronic gadgets and equipment also share another characteristic — they contain toxic components such as lead, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants. These poisons are embedded in various parts of the gadget from the monitor, the circuit board, to the batteries.

In the Philippines, the draw to acquire electronic goods is becoming as insatiable as those from Western consumers. In a 2011 survey conducted by Ban Toxics, an e-waste NGO watchdog group, 2000 households out of 80 barangays in Cebu, showed that on average a typical urban household will have at least 2 TV sets, 2 computers, and 2 mobile phones.

Rural households did not lag too far behind with CFLs and linear fluorescent lamps as the main contributor to the amount of e-wastes generated by the region.

What seems to be driving the increase in electronics in household is the ready and cheap second-hand electronics or segunda mano from countries like Japan and South Korea.

Notice the boom in these second hand shops in, both rural and urban centers. These stores sell a wide range of electronic products that range from TV sets to air conditioners to desktop computers and even musical instruments. With affordable rates, the business of second hand is proving to be an attraction for folks seeking a bargain.

In its report entitled, “The Vanishing E-wastes of the Philippines”, Ban Toxics cited that most of these electronic equipment once discarded, will end up in dumpsites or even worse, burned.

Electronic wastes or more commonly known as e-wastes, both Philippine and international law consider these toxic.

Sadly, e-wastes in the country are mixed with other garbage or are sold to junk shops for very primitive recycling techniques. Driven by poverty, folks would break or burn these devices to retrieve components such as copper wiring and then sold for recycling.

According to the Basel Action Network, an environmental justice group based in the US who have been tracking the e-waste issue since 2000, “e-waste encompasses a broad and growing range of electronic devices, ranging from large household devices such as refrigerators, air conditioners, cell phones, personal stereos, and consumer electronics to computers, which have been discarded by their users.”

The growing mountain of rubbish may be seen as harmless but Richard Gutierrez, executive director of Ban Toxics, said the combination of volume and toxicity, makes e-waste “an environmental time-bomb.”

He added: “Unless proper steps are taken to educate the public, impose stringent responsibilities to manufacturers and distributors, full engagement of national and local government on this issue, soil, water, and air contamination from e-waste will continue to plague Philippine cities and countryside.”

Recognizing the dangers, rich and developed nations have already designed and adapted legislation to ensure the safe disposal of e-wastes as well as restrictions on the trade and dumping of e-wastes in developing countries such as the Philippines.

To address mounting e-waste, Gutierrez has urged the government to immediately ratify the Basel Ban Amendment, an international treaty that prohibits the dumping of toxic waste, like e-waste to developing countries such as the Philippines for disposal or recycling.

According to Gutierrez, “a lot of these e-waste coming to the country comes from developed countries, by ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment, the responsibility to police these illegal exports is placed on the country of export and not on the developing country.”

In addition to the above step, Ban Toxics also advises the public to:

  1. Research. Know which companies produce safe and environmentally sustainable electronic gadgets. Websites such as those set up by Greenpeace have guides that rank the top electronics manufacturers according to their policies on toxics, recycling, and climate change.
  2. Purchase electronics that have the “RoHS” logo. This means that the equipment complies with the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive that prohibit the sale of electronics that contain common toxins found in electronic gadgets.
  3. Buy energy-efficient electronic products. Less energy used, means lesser power consumption. Which not only means less money to Meralco, but beneficial to the climate as well.
  4. Look for brands with good warranty and take-back policies. Reputable manufacturers should stand behind the products they sell.
  5. Go for quality, not quantity. Most of the cheap items will wear out after a few months. Buying a product with good quality item is a much better investment, and better for the environment, too.
  6. Look for electronics with rechargeable rather than disposable batteries.
  7. Don’t Dump or Burn your e-waste. Look for reputable recyclers who can manage the toxic waste in an environmentally sound manner.

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