Submitted by: The Two Sides Team March 27, 2013
When electronic appliances reach their end-of-product life and are in a state of disrepair, they become an extra burden to landfill operators and municipal councils.
At any landfill, one would find an assortment of e-waste ranging from old computers, television and radio sets, photocopier machines to electronic printers, microwave ovens and cell phones. Solid waste such as these also contain toxic materials and are non-biodegradable. By all counts, they are a scourge to the environment as they contribute to soil, water and air pollution.
Currently the Asia-Pacific region is producing more than half of global electronic waste or e-waste. However, worldwide only 10% of it is recycled. There is a call in the region for tighter regulation in this area, yet its implementation is difficult as legislation is tricky, said experts at a recent media event held in Pattaya, Thailand. The event hosted by electronic manufacturer Fuji Xerox also included an industry roundtable which raised a pertinent issue. It pointed out that e-waste is a global menace as it is increasing at the rate of 40% annually and totals 5% of global solid waste.
In most countries it has been noted that the e-waste recycling ranks low in priority. There are several reasons as to the poor initiative at recycling e-waste such as a lack of a system for the collection and transport of the e-waste material. There is also a lack of obligation on the part of manufacturers of these goods to retrieve them for recycling as there are no clear laws as to who should be responsible for these end-of-life products.
When not properly disposed, e-waste poses a threat not only to the environment but also to human health. E-waste contains toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and flame retardants � which are all hazardous leachates. Handling these toxic materials unprofessionally can predispose people to cancer, hormonal defects and a host of other health problems.
According to Mushtaq Memon of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) who participated in the roundtable, one of the crucial concerns was this gap between regulations and its implementation. He said: 'Without sufficient research and development, financing, capacity-building and knowledge-transfer, the implementation of regulations would be difficult, he said. As such, regulations alone would not solve the problems of e-waste.'
The panellists concurred that the major solution to manage and treat e-waste is with the manufacturer, on whom lies the onus to take back the products for proper recycling and processing. It was suggested that manufacturers should take back these products as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), oversee the life-cycle of their products and should design products that are more re-useable in future models that they introduce to the market.
Associate Prof Chris Ryan from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research recommended companies to follow guidelines set by UNEP in their 'design for environment' guide. Attention to the design of a product could reduce its environmental impact by as much as 60% to 80%, noted Ryan.
At the macro level, Dr Patsaraporn Plubcharoensuk from Thailand's Department of Industrial Waste offered that education of youths and the future generation is necessary. She said it will go a long way to empower youth if green technologies are to be seriously embraced. She said: "This way, eco-friendly behaviour can be ingrained and people are more likely to consider recycling their products responsibly."
Ryan said at the roundtable that Fuji Xerox's efforts on recycling is timely, as 'the era of pure production of goods and economic growth has come to pass'. He said: "With toxic waste and pollution increasing on a global scale, the focus in the next two decades will be on the recovery of materials and components."
According to UNEP Asia-Pacific regional director and representative Dr Park Young-Woo, Fuji Xerox has been a pioneer in the industry in e-waste recycling. Since 1995, the global company has channelled its CSR efforts into the development of a sophisticated integrated recycling system. He said that the Fuji Xerox concept is extraordinary as it uses a personalised method called 'signature analysis' to asses the condition and age of the parts of the used product, before they are reused in the manufacturing of new models.
According to Fuji Xerox general manager (global recycling system) Yoshihiro Sasaki, the company-wide product recycle policy was established in 1995. He said the company has been promoting activities to realise the policy of 'Promoting Reuse of Resources for Infinite Zero Landfill'. He said: "Fuji Xerox established an integrated recycling system out of recognition that the efforts to reduce the environmental loads of its manufactured products is an important CSR initiative as a manufacturer." He said the system adopted by Fuji Xerox aims to reduce environmental loads of products throughout the product life cycle based on the concept that used products are valuable resources, not waste. He said the company's initiative is based on the 'closed loop system' where products released to the market are collected and their parts sorted out of them and circulated in a closed circle under strict quality assurance.
Also discussed at the roundtable was the issue of relationship between the consumers, shareholders, governments and companies. Amanda Keogh, head of sustainability at Fuji Xerox Asia Pacific, pointed out that it is important to build trust between consumers and companies. In order to alleviate suspicions of 'greenwashing', or the phenomenon of companies deceptively promoting themselves as environmentally-friendly in order to win over the market, governments must find ways to appraise the CSR efforts of businesses.
On a larger perspective the panelists concurred that e-waste will be a pressing issue for businesses, governments and consumers in the coming decades. 'Recovering precious metals from used parts can not only reduce environmental damage, it also has economic benefits and even health benefits. This is why we must take the issue of e-waste seriously,' said Park.
This article, written by Joseph Masilamany, appeared on the FMT News website.