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e-Waste (and How To Manage It)

Congrats! The Iphone you replace every year could be killing us all. 

Ever think about what happens to the Iphones you replace, or the old printer at your office, your white-turned-yellow rice cooker and even your flat batteries? I hope you did not just toss any of them into the bin and allow them to be managed the same way as your fruit peel and torn clothes. 



e-Waste ranges from electronic household appliances, computer and telecommunication appliances, lighting devices, toys and consumer electronics including audio equipment, electrical tools, to medical devices. It demands a special disposal treatment to ensure they do not cause further harm to the environment. 


Most, if not all, e-Waste contains materials that could pose health threats to humans and harm the environment when they are not properly managed. For example, hard metals like mercury could be found in computer monitors and sulphuric acid is a common material in batteries, both of these are not only hazardous to our health, they also pose a risk of pollution to our environment. Said plainly, we should sort out and recycle electronic products the proper way, rather than disregarding them as typical household trash and disposing of them as so. 


Did you know? Based on a report by The Global E-waste Monitor in 2020, Malaysians generated an estimated 364 kilotons of e-Waste in 2019. While there is no official data on the collection or recycling rate of the e-Waste generated, the report raised valid concerns on the effectiveness in our recycling efforts against the daily rate of e-Waste generation.  


You might be familiar with the concept of Karung Guni, the neighbourhood recyclables collector who offers a small payment for your stack of old newspapers and broken electronic appliances. They might be the e-Waste disposal portal which you are the most familiar with, but, are they the most effective and ethical? 



Most Karung Guni collectors deliver their finds to informal e-Waste recyclers or recycling sites. These are unregulated operators which do not adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the authorities, be it in terms of ensuring staff safety and protection or complying with the legally allowed carbon emission standards. 


This means workers at informal recycling centres are often not given the right equipment to dismantle electronic devices, thus exposing themselves to harmful chemicals or hard metals in electronics. On top of that, these sites bury or burn wastes without recyclable value to reduce their own waste disposal costs. Either way poses risks in contaminating the soil, air and surrounding water sources. 


In contrast, formal or licensed e-Waste recycling sites would involve a series of professional treatment to all recyclables collected. This includes delicate execution of the technical processes of disassembling and cleaning, before transitioning to mechanically shred and sort them based on their materials using advanced separation technology. 


SOPs set by the government or relevant authorities require strict adherence to health and safety rules to ensure staff’s physical wellbeing is not at risk, and pollution-control technologies are also needed to minimise the impact to the environment. A slight disadvantage to the system, however, is the high operational cost that firms might struggle with. 



Informal recycling, which is typically unlicensed and unregulated, leads to more harm than good. The old Iphone you throw away could likely end up in a random recycling site where it is dismantled and risk the exposure of metal wastes to the environment. The cheapest way for centres to get rid of it would either be burying it in a landfill or sending it for incineration, both of which harm the nature. 


Thus, choosing the right way to dispose of your e-Waste is essential.


While most people rely on Karang Guni collectors to dispose of their e-Waste, do note that they are directly supporting informal recycling centres to thrive. Formal recyclers’ compliance with regulatory standards tend to incur higher costs so they do not pay Karang Guni collectors as much as informal recyclers do. But if you support formal recyclers, the cheaper compensation worth RM2 less is still a better deal than the government needing to lose millions or billions to save the environment later.


The Department of Environment (DoE) has put together a list of official e-Waste collection points across Peninsular Malaysia. This could help you identify your nearest collection points, where you can deliver your own items. You may also find other useful information on the website, especially on licensed e-Waste recycling companies and further information about e-Waste management. 


If it is hard for you to bring your e-Waste to an official collection point, do check out ERTH, which is short for Electronic Recycling Through Heroes. ERTH offers a collection service from your preferred location (home or office) and recycles all the e-Waste it collects with a government-licensed recycling facility which ensures that proper SOPs are adopted from the technical end to the labour end. Imagine Grab service, but they come to you to get your old laptops or Iphones upon booking online. In exchange, they compensate you well (approximately double of what their competitors pay). It sounds like an enhanced version of Karang Guni collectors but with the adoption of digitalisation and an assurance that your e-Waste would be properly managed.


In a world where every single person uses a minimum of three electrical or electronic devices, we are only producing more e-Waste as our society progresses. Let’s play a part in managing e-Waste the right way to help achieve better sustainability. It always begins with ourselves.




By,

Euan Thum, Journalist, Charisma Movement 23/24.

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