The Rising Challenge of E-Waste

According to a UN report published last tuesday, Pakistan is one of the 15 nations where recycling and disassembling electronic debris is seen as a serious health risk. But among the three nations, India is the one where e-waste recycling is most widespread. The remaining two are China and Brazil. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the three major South Asian countries, are among the worst affected.


Import of E Waste from Other Nations:

Every year, thousands of tones of e-waste are shipped to Pakistan from nations like the US and the UK, and more is predicted to arrive as a result of China and India recently tightening its regulations on the importation of e-waste from other nations. According to a research, “around 13 percent” of the 40 million tones of electronic garbage produced annually around the world, with about nine million tones of that coming from the European Union, are shipped for recycling to nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.


Health Concerns:

The most frequent victims are young children who scavenge for parts to sell from e-waste sites. Health concerns associated with dealing with e-waste in underdeveloped nations are said to include “severe neurological damage,” notably from compounds like lead, mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals. Ineffective management of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and flame retardants also poses a health risk.


Sources and Minimization:

The contamination of agricultural lands and livestock caused by illegal e-waste activities, according to Asif Shuja Khan, Director General of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, can also endanger the environment and human health. However, he notes that the risks could be reduced if appropriate safeguards were in place, such as “proper ventilation and light at the recycling and dumping sites.”

He stated that workers at such sites should wear safety equipment and that “no smoking, eating or drinking should be permitted in the work area, and workers should be instructed to wash their hands with an appropriate detergent before eating. It should be done immediately,” he added.

Khan also commented on the fact that many foreign companies have expressed interest in working in the recycling industry by reusing e-waste in the country, saying that “the business is legally protected by relevant laws. If so,” he noted, “Pakistan is thereby benefiting millions of people, creating thousands of jobs and minimizing health and environmental risks. We will take this issue up with the relevant authorities in both the Center and the states to enact legislation on the importation, handling and management of e-waste,” Khan said.


Lack of Awareness:

Lack of knowledge about health and environmental risks has been blamed for Pakistan’s lack of rules and regulations regarding the handling of e-waste, said Muhammad Ashraf, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce, commenting:

“Under the Basel Convention, the ministry has so far only investigated the environmental and health risks of plastic waste imported from various countries. It reportedly added that it could implement a formal strategy on e-waste”.

Writer is a student of International Islamic University Islamabad.